In September 1861, during his first stay in Paris, Cézanne failed to qualify for a place at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and greatly disillusioned, returned home to Aix-en-Provence, where he worked for a time in his father's bank. He registered at the local Ecole Gratuite de Dessin, where he had the opportunity to draw from live models. That summer he painted in the countryside around Aix with his friend Numa Coste. In a letter to Cézanne dated 29 September 1862, Emile Zola hoped to boost his friend's spirits by suggesting, "I believe this is a way to escape from the influence of the schools and to develop some originality, if one has any" (in J. Rewald, ed., Paul Cézanne Letters, New York, 1976, p. 96).
Cézanne returned to Paris in November 1862. He registered at the Academie Suisse, where the painter Joseph-Thomas Chautard corrected his studies. In a letter to his friend Coste dated Paris, 5 January 1863, Cézanne reminisced about their time together in Aix the previous summer in some brief verses, in which he yearned for "The days when we went to the fields of the [river] Torse To eat a good lunch, and palette in hand Traced on our canvas the landscape around" (ibid., p. 99).
Cézanne remained in Paris until July 1864, and then returned again to Aix, where he stayed until the following spring. Within the two-year period to which Rewald ascribes the present painting, it was most likely executed in the summer of 1862 or the summer of 1864. Rewald stated that it "may portray one of the ruins that abounded in Provence, though the architecture is not otherwise defined. The execution is somewhat in the manner of Gustave Courbet" (J. Rewald, op. cit., p. 76). He pointed out a similar subject in another painting from the same time (Rewald, no. 47), in which a ruined arch is seen from a greater distance. There is also a drawing showing an arch, which Chappuis dated even earlier, 1859-1860 (Chappuis, no. 114). In this drawing, Cézanne recorded the year 1690 as it appeared on the keystone of the arch, which is not visible in present painting. In his entry for this drawing Chappuis noted the significance of the arch motif as a compositional device "much favored by Cézanne."