Cézanne's Vue d'Auvers-sur-Oise; la Barrière is a vibrant example of the artist's Impressionist period when he was working with Pissarro (fig. 1) in the area around Pontoise. The paintings that Cézanne executed in this region between 1872 and 1874 represent a critical moment in his artistic development. Working directly from nature alongside his friend and mentor, Camille Pissarro (fig. 1), Cézanne abandoned the dark tonalities and rough facture of his earlier canvases and adopted the light, varied palette and fleet, vibratory touch of Impressionism. John Rewald has called this period the "decisive phase of Cézanne's evolution" (op. cit., 1996, p. 145), while Roger Fry has noted, "He was evidently excited, liberated, and enriched by what the Impressionist vision revealed to him. The smallest face of stone wall becomes, for his analytic and searching gaze, of unspeakable richness" (in Cézanne: A Study of His Development, New York, 1959, p. 36). Contemporary observers too were struck by Cézanne's achievement. The artist Charles Daubigny commented, "I've just seen on the bank of the Oise an extraordinary piece of work. It is by a young and unknown man, a certain Cézanne" (quoted in J. Rewald, op. cit., 1986, p. 95). Likewise, in a letter to the painter Antoine Guillemet dated September of 1872, Pissarro wrote, "Our Cézanne gives us hope, and I've seen some pictures. At home I have a painting of both remarkable vigor and force. If, as I hope, he stays some time in Auvers, he will astonish quite a few artists who were all too quick to condemn him" (quoted in B.E. White, Impressionists Side By Side, New York, 1996, p. 117).
Pontoise, where Pissarro had lived since 1866, was a lively rural town on the Oise River, about twenty miles northwest of Paris. Cézanne moved there in the summer of 1872, settling with Hortense Fiquet and their young son Paul at the Hôtel du Grand Cerf. A few months later, he relocated to Auvers, a picturesque hamlet of thatched cottages on the road leading from Pontoise to l'Isle-Adam. Cézanne remained at Auvers until early 1874, frequently walking to Pontoise to paint alongside Pissarro. He also worked with Pissarro in the studio of Dr. Gachet, a homeopathic physician and amateur artist who had settled at Auvers the previous year. To Cézanne, whose earlier work was notable for its fiery execution and violent eroticism, Pissarro's luminous palette and patient observation of nature were a revelation. As late as the 1900s, near the end of his life, Cézanne acknowledged his artistic debt to the older painter, listing himself in an exhibition catalogue as "Paul Cézanne, pupil of Pissarro" (quoted in ibid., p. 109). He described Monet and Pissarro as "the two great masters, the only two," and elsewhere wrote, "As for old Pissarro, he was a father to me; someone to turn to for advice, somebody like the good Lord Himself" (quoted in ibid., p. 109). Describing Pissarro's importance for Cézanne's artistic development, Fry has written:
At Auvers Cézanne became in effect apprentice to Pissarro. Pissarro put into his hands a technical method in which all was calculated beforehand, in which one proceeded with methodical deliberation and strict precaution, step by step, touch by touch, toward a preconceived and clearly envisaged goal. It turned him away from inner vision and showed him the marvelous territory of external vision (op. cit., pp. 34-35).
John Rewald has identified the motif in the present painting as a group of farmhouses just south of Auvers, parallel to the railroad tracks. Cézanne made a panoramic vista of the same cluster of cottages in 1873 (Rewald no. 199; location unknown), as well as a close-up view of the houses in the center (R. 198; Philadelphia Museum of Art). The composition of the present picture, with its high-vantage view of cubic houses scattered amidst encompassing greenery, was a formula that Pissarro had particularly favored in the previous decade. Cézanne's canvas is constructed around a series of visually related motifs created by the verticals of the tree trunks, chimneys, and fence posts, plus the horizontal framing elements of the horizon and foreground wall. The landscape is rendered in varied hues of green, enlivened by luminous touches of white and attenuated but sonorous notes of vermilion. In 1876-1877, Cézanne painted a similar view of a group of houses at Auvers, with the trees in the foreground again acting as a partial screen (R. 277; Private collection). Around 1879, he reprised the composition yet again in a view of the Île-de-France (fig. 2). This time, the painter Armand Guillaumin set up his easel alongside Cézanne's, inspired by his fellow artist to produce an almost identical vista.
The first owner of the present painting was Victor Chocquet, a close friend of Cézanne and the earliest consistent buyer of his works, as well as an energetic champion of Impressionism. A customs clerk of modest means, Chocquet nevertheless was able to amass a remarkable collection of paintings and drawings during the second half of the 19th century, including at least thirty-five works by Cézanne. Monet described Chocquet as the only individual that he had ever met "who truly loved painting with a passion," and Renoir called him "the greatest French collector since the kings, perhaps of the world since the Popes!" (quoted in J. Rewald, op. cit., 1996, p. 194). Chocquet's fierce devotion to Cézanne and his colleagues is evident from the collector's behavior at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877, which Georges Rivière described:
He was something to see, standing up to hostile crowds at the exhibition during the first years of Impressionism. He accosted those who laughed, making them ashamed of their unkind comments, lashing them with ironic remarks. Hardly had he left one group before he would be found, farther along, leading a reluctant connoisseur, almost by force, up to canvases by Renoir, Monet, or Cézanne, doing his utmost to make the man share his admiration for these reviled artists. He exerted himself tirelessly without ever departing from that refined courtesy that made him the most charming, and the dangerous, adversary (quoted in A. Distel, Impressionism: The First Collectors, New York, 1990, p. 137).
Cézanne painted six portraits of Chocquet between their first meeting in 1875 and the collector's death in 1891 (R. 292, 296-297, 460-461, 671; fig. 3). Chocquet's collection of works by Cézanne, including the present painting, hung on his walls until the end of his life, when it was dispersed at a series of public auctions at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris.
(fig. 1) Paul Cézanne (center) and Camille Pissarro (right) near Auvers, circa 1874.
(fig. 2) Paul Cézanne, Village derrière des arbres, Île-de- France, circa 1879 (sale, Christie's, New York, 15 November 1988, lot 17).
(fig. 3) Paul Cézanne, Portrait de Victor Chocquet assis, 1877. Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.