Cézanne painted this subject at least four times around 1879; the site has not been identified although it is presumed that it is close to Auvers where the artist lived in the 1870s. John Rewald dates the work to 1879 and allies it to a painting which Leo Stein bought from Vollard in 1904 (fig. 1). Stein called his picture Landscape with Spring House, in reference to the small building in the foreground. Stein's painting, now in the Barnes Collection in Pennsylvania, depicts from a closer viewpoint the mill and group of houses which we see in the present picture. The small red brick structure in the left foreground of this painting housed a pipe used to drive a mill wheel which is visible, half submerged, in the meadow in the foreground.
Regarding Cézanne's works of this period, Fritz Novotny wrote in 1938:
"In some ways the works of this phase--the last part of the seventies and the time around 1880--provide a more distinct expression of the space-forming principles of Cézanne than do the works of the succeeding periods. They do so in a more remarkable, less complicated fashion. Within Cézanne's evolution, their style appears like a clearly formulated program. The main feature that derives from this is the homogeneity of the pictorial structure... Of great importance here are the evenly distributed values, the balance of the structural parts of pictorial cohesion: as far as the execution is concerned, this is seen in the closely assembled, fat, mostly rather pigment-loaded brush strokes that frequently are oriented in parallel diagonals. This even distribution of values and this balance emphatically express a lack of contrast that pervades the entire picture plane and thus also the picture space." (quoted in J. Rewald, op. cit., p. 272).
Cézanne spent two periods in the 1870s--the first between 1874 and 1877 and the second between 1879 and 1882--in or near Pontoise, approximately forty miles west of Paris. Pissarro had settled in Pontoise in 1866 and Dr. Gachet, the highly supportive patron and collector of the Impressionists, lived nearby at Auvers. Cézanne and Pissarro painted side-by-side on many occasions during these years, and it was here, under the gentle tutelage of Pissarro, that Cézanne developed both his characteristic way of handling paint and the brushstroke that he used throughout the remainder of his career. He began by copying a Pissarro landscape, learning to do without black and to use the primary colors and their derivatives (fig. 2).
Cézanne made views of Auvers throughout the decade and it is instructive to compare the present picture with an 1874 view of the town (fig. 3). In 1874 Cézanne painted an expansive view with a uniform illumination and without many of the devices of traditional painting, such as chiaroscuro and repoussoir. Cézanne believed that nature "falls before our eyes [and] gives us the picture...[we must] give the image of what we see, forgetting all that has existed before us" (quoted in R. Shiff, Cézanne and the End of Impressionism, Chicago, 1984, p. 113). He wrote to Emile Bernard in 1904 to explain the significance of his method, "One is neither too scrupulous, too sincere, nor too submissive before nature; but one is more or less master of his model, and above all his means of expression. One must penetrate what lies before him, and strive to express himself as logically as possible" (quoted in ed. J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne, Correspondance, Paris, 1937, p. 262).
Paysage avec conduite d'eau extends the technique of the 1874 work and provides a transition into the painting of the 1880s and 1890s. Writing about the present picture, John Rewald notes, "The brushwork does not follow any consistent pattern: there are loose twirls in the sky and dense horizontal strokes in the fields, whereas the foliage of the trees shows mostly a strictly diagonal pattern" (J. Rewald, op. cit., p. 269). This freedom of brushwork is markedly different from the technique of the later works, where the strokes are uniform and harmonize the details; Richard Shiff describes Cézanne's "technique of originality: his concern for detail and his development of a unifying pattern" (R. Shiff, op. cit., p. 116).
The palette in the present work is particularly notable. Rewald describes it as "green, interspersed with white buildings topped by red roofs" (J. Rewald, op. cit., p. 269); with its restrained and unified tonality, it differs markedly from the 1874 picture. Discussing the role of color in the paintings of these years, Shiff writes, "Color therefore articulates Cézanne's field of vision more than any variation in the line that shapes form, or in the chiaroscuro that models form" (R. Shiff, op. cit., p. 119). Shiff identifies the sharp yellow-green of the 1874 Auvers landscape as the best indicator of the revolution that Cézanne was trying to introduce into his work. This intense color, which appears in the foreground and middle ground of the painting, would not have been used by artists such as Monet, who would have mixed the yellow with blue or black to produce a duller color. "Cézanne's unusual color serves to signify in all his painting, whether of observed or imagined subjects, that his technique is original in the double sense: it is derived from his direct, 'unattenuated' observation of nature and is independent of the technical tradition it clearly defies" (ibid., p. 115). An indication of the extent of this revolution can be found in the praise that Zola gave to Pissarro in L'Evénement: "His canvases are devoid of all pyrotechnics, all the artifice that intensifies the extremely powerful and harsh reality of nature" (quoted in J. Pissarro, op. cit., p. 52).
In the preface to his monograph on Cézanne, Meyer Shapiro wrote:
"The visible world is simply not represented on Cézanne's canvas. It is re-created through strokes of color among which are many that we cannot identify with an object and yet are necessary for the harmony of the whole. If his touch of pigment is a bit of nature (a tree, a fruit) and a bit of sensation (green, red), it is also an element of construction which binds sensations or objects. The whole presents itself to us on the one hand as an object-world that is colorful, varied and harmonious, and on the other hand as the minutely ordered creation of an observant, inventive mind intensely concerned with its own process... In this complex process...the self is always present, poised between sensing and knowing, or between its perceptions and a practical ordering activity..." (M. Shapiro, Cézanne, New York, 1962, p. 10).
(fig. 1) Paul Cézanne, La conduite d'eau, circa 1879. The Barnes Collection, Pennsylvania. Barcode 23669550
(fig. 2) Camille Pissarro, Rue de Saint-Antoine à l'Hermitage, Pointoise, 1875. Private collection. Barcode 23669567
(fig. 3) Paul Cézanne, Vue panoramique d'Auvers-sur-Oise, 1873-1874. The Art Institute, Chicago.Barcode 23669574