Paul Cézanne - Viaduct at l'Estaque 1882

Viaduct at l'Estaque 1882
The Forest Clearing
1882 45x53cm oil/canvas
Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

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From Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College:
The steep, dry terrain of l'Estaque rises behind the equivocating horizontal of a train viaduct. With its formal simplifications and spatial ambiguities, this close, frontal view of a scrupulously observed motif typifies Cézanne's painting of the 1880s.
From the early 1870s, Cézanne frequently sojourned at the Mediterranean fishing village of l'Estaque, near the painter's home in Aix-en-Provence. The Viaduct at l'Estaque was almost certainly painted in the early months of 1882, during a visit to the site by Auguste Renoir. Renoir stopped in l'Estaque in January 1882 en route to Paris from Italy, and worked alongside Cézanne for a short time between late February and mid March. Ellen Johnson has established that Renoir's Rocky Crags at l'Estaque, signed and dated 1882 (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts) was painted from nearly the same spot as Cézanne's Viaduct.
Johnson's photographs show the slopes of the massive crags that dominate the views chosen by Cézanne and Renoir, and the tufts and clusters of pines that are still a distinctive feature of the site. In positioning himself slightly to the left of Cézanne, Renoir chose a view of the crag that partly concealed the abrupt projection of the cliff on the right. Renoir's preference for soft landscapes, rolling hills, curved shapes, and gentle transitions also accounts for the great differences between his canvas and Cézanne's Viaduct. While Renoir offers a landscape in which the viewer may wander and rest, Cézanne's Viaduct emphasizes the density and resistance of landscape as both a physical topography and a field of painterly perception and transcription.
Anchoring the composition and passing through the rock is the low horizontal of the viaduct which, in Rewald's words, "could easily thwart any attempt at 'penetrating' into the picture's depth." The viewer's points of entry and perusal are explicitly pictorial: "The subtle variations of colors and the vivacious brushwork, no longer rigidly slanted, smoothly lead the eye from the foreground trees to the remote crates set against the sky." The short, parallel strokes of the pine trees, and the blue, violet, and ochre patches of rock, enact the light, relief, and declivities of the landscape, and the process of transcribing these incidents--in pigment, on canvas--as an organized field of vision. As Johnson wrote in 1950, "the balance of the thrusts and counter-thrusts in the large planes is enriched by the action of these countless small ones and by their color and value modulations...this tension and resolution, has been carefully brought into unified relationship with the two-dimensionality of the picture surface."
Cézanne painted at least one other view of the viaduct at l'Estaque that Rewald dates between 1879 and 1882, Le Viaduct à l'Estaque in Helsinki. The facture of that painting includes much of the diagonal stroke that characterized Cézanne's work shortly before the moment of the Oberlin canvas. Cézanne also painted at least three other views of the crags at l'Estaque during this period. From the mid '80s onward, the artist favored more expansive motifs from l'Estaque that frequently included a view of the bay.
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