(i) Early period, before 1872
Cézanne studied from c. 1849 to 1852 at the Ecole Saint-Joseph and from 1852 to 1858 at the Collège Bourbon, both in Aix-en-Provence. At the latter, in about 1852, he met Emile Zola, who was to become his closest friend. In 1857 he enrolled at the Ecole Municipale de Dessin in Aix-en-Provence, where he studied under Joseph Gibert (1806–84). In 1859, following his father’s wishes, he began to study law at the Université d’Aix. The same year his father bought the estate Le Jas de Bouffan, near Aix, where Cézanne set up a studio and worked frequently throughout his life. He also attended the Ecole Municipale de Dessin again for the academic years 1858–9, 1859–60 and 1860–61. In 1861 he abandoned his law studies and, wishing to become a painter, he moved to Paris in April of that year. There he met up with Zola and worked at the Académie Suisse, where he became acquainted with Camille Pissarro. This first trip was unhappy, however, and, having repeatedly thought of leaving, in September he went back to Aix and enrolled at the local drawing school. He returned to Paris in November 1862, where he again attended the Académie Suisse. While in Paris he copied works by Titian, Giorgione, Veronese, Rubens, Delacroix, Courbet and others at the Louvre but failed the entrance examination for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1863 he participated in the Salon des Refusés with Manet, Pissarro, Jongkind, Guillaumin and others, and during their first meeting, in 1866, Manet praised his still-lifes. Cézanne submitted works for the Salon every year at this time but was refused on each occasion. Extremely disappointed, he moved continually between Aix and Paris from 1864 to 1870. In 1869 he met a young model, Hortense Fiquet, then 19 years old, who became his mistress, and in 1870, when war was declared with Prussia, he took refuge with her in L’Estaque, near Marseille, where his mother owned a house. He returned to Paris in the autumn of 1871, after the fall of the Commune.
For the early period the problem of establishing the chronology of Cézanne’s work is compounded by the fact that some pieces were destroyed by Cézanne himself, or by his father, which makes an exact analysis difficult. Of the remaining paintings, with the exception of portraits and still-lifes, many are expressively executed in dark colours and inspired by violent, dramatic themes. They are full of exuberance and intensity, and the style is impetuous, the rhythm lively and the paint thick. The serene and subdued vision of Cézanne’s final period, in which there is a tendency towards abstraction, is little in evidence in these early works. At this time Cézanne was attempting to forge a personal technique, and the works are therefore quite varied in style. The imaginary paintings reflect his studies of the Old Masters and in particular of Delacroix, whom he greatly admired. There are a few surviving copies of works from this period, the most faithful being after paintings by Delacroix (e.g. Barque of Dante, c. 1864; Cambridge, MA, priv. col., see 1988–9 exh. cat., p. 79).
One of Cézanne’s most remarkable early paintings is The Abduction (1867; Cambridge, King’s Coll., on loan to Cambridge, Fitzwilliam), which he gave to Zola. Set against a carefully painted, dark-green background, the two large naked figures that dominate the scene create a striking image of force and dynamism. The Black Scipio (c. 1867; São Paolo, Mus. A. Mod.) depicts a model from the Académie Suisse, whom Cézanne must have painted in his own studio. Painted in long, sinuous brushstrokes, the work belonged to Monet, who called it a ‘fragment of raw power’. The violence of many of the early works is particularly evident in The Murder (c. 1870; Liverpool, Walker A.G.), in which the turbulent technique enhances the impact of the subject. A Modern Olympia (or The Pasha, c. 1869–70; priv. col., see 1988–9 exh. cat., p. 151) was painted as a tribute to Manet’s celebrated picture Olympia (1863; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay), which had caused a scandal at the Salon of 1865. In his version, Cézanne used strong, striking colours and a composition in which the various planes overlap to create a swirling and unstable movement, full of impetuosity and intensity. In homage to Manet and in reference to Spanish art, he employed a palette of blacks that accentuates the stridency of the coloration. The tribute is somewhat equivocal, however: the title suggests that the work is a modernization of Manet’s original. Both Cézanne and Zola believed that art should be marked by the temperament of the artist, and so, in addition to his more expressive style, Cézanne painted himself in the foreground of the picture, gazing at the female figures. Thus, in contrast to the more reticent approach of Manet, Cézanne imposed his personality directly on the work both through style and content. This attitude is again apparent in Young Girl at the Piano: Overture to Tannhäuser (c. 1869–70; St Petersburg, Hermitage), in which the reference to Richard Wagner’s music prompts associations with powerful, abundant emotion and thus implicitly with the artistic personality. Also in this work Cézanne included the circle and arabesque forms that he developed more fully in later paintings.
Cézanne painted several portraits in this early period, mostly of family members and close friends. In contrast to the passion and violence of his imaginative works these have a notable sobriety and detachment. Nevertheless, the colours are often vivid and the paint thickly impastoed with a palette knife. One of his favourite models was his mother’s brother, Uncle Dominique, of whom he made several portraits (e.g. Man with a Cloth Cap (Uncle Dominique), c. 1866; New York, Met.), and he also painted his father (e.g. Louis-Auguste Cézanne Reading ‘L’Evénement’ (1866; Washington, DC, N.G.A.). One of the most moving portraits is that of his dwarf painter friend Achille Emperaire (c. 1868–70; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay), which was refused by the Salon of 1870. Painted life-size and in strongly contrasting colours, it shows the artist seated in an armchair with his fragile legs resting on a low stool. Throughout his life Cézanne also produced self-portraits: an early example (1861–2; priv. col., see 1988–9 exh. cat., p. 73) is imbued with the same passion evident in the other works of this period. Executed in a dark palette highlighted with flecks of red, the artist looks out at the viewer with an intense, penetrating gaze in a self-portrait typical of Romanticism.
Though they constitute the greater part of his subsequent work, Cézanne produced few landscapes in this early period. The most important is The Cutting (c. 1869–70; Munich, Neue Pin.), which already reveals his dislike for deep, one-point perspective. The undulating landscape elements are repeated in layers in the composition, while the imposing bulk of Mont Sainte-Victoire, which dominates Aix and was later a favourite subject of Cézanne, is painted as clearly and solidly as the features in the foreground. The landscape rises up towards the top corners of the picture, so introducing a strong equilibrium into the work in a format that he repeated in the following few years. He began to study nature in earnest only during his trip to L’Estaque in 1870–71.
Of all his early works, it was primarily in his still-lifes that Cézanne adumbrated the themes and concerns that he developed in more detail later. One of the most masterly of these is the Black Clock (c. 1870; Stavros Niarchos priv. col., see 1988–9 exh. cat., p. 169). It depicts the top of a mantelpiece partly covered by a tablecloth with starched and rigid creases. On this several objects are arranged: a large shell with a glaring pink opening, a coffee cup with a black rim, a single glass vase, a vivid yellow lemon, a black clock (without hands) that belonged to Zola and a square pottery vessel. By its composition and structure as well as by the equilibrium of colours, it prefigures the works of Cézanne’s maturity.
(ii) Impressionist period, 1872–82
In 1872, the year of the birth of their son Paul, Cézanne went to live at Pontoise with Hortense. (He hid the existence of his family from his father, who discovered the situation only in 1878 and reduced Cézanne’s financial aid as a result.) There he worked outdoors alongside Pissarro and also met Dr Paul Gachet, a collector and friend of the Impressionists. From late 1872 or early 1873 until 1874, together with his family, he stayed in Gachet’s house at Auvers-sur-Oise, again working with Pissarro. In 1873 he met van Gogh, and in 1874 he participated in the First Impressionist Exhibition at the studio of the photographer Nadar in Paris. Of all the artists showing work at the exhibition Cézanne received particular criticism in the press, and some painters, fearing this, had wished to have him excluded from the show. After the Romantic and Baroque style of his early period, from 1872 Cézanne turned to a more Impressionist aesthetic while working with Pissarro at Pontoise and while at Auvers-sur-Oise. This interest in nature and the move away from the turbulent early style are expressed in the calm Self-portrait (1872; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay), which includes a landscape in the background. During his time with Pissarro, Cézanne painted the House of the Hanged Man (1873; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay), which was exhibited at the First Impressionist Exhibition. The structure and density of the forms are the essential qualities of this painting, in which Cézanne shows himself very close to the works of the older artist. The subject, the composition and the clear colour testify to the proximity of conception and execution between the works of Cézanne and his Impressionist friends. He worked outdoors and made studies of his subjects, marking a distinct difference from the methods used in his early works. Cézanne also exhibited a second version of the Modern Olympia (1872–3; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay) at the First Impressionist Exhibition. This was executed in much looser, more fluid brushstrokes than the earlier version and thus reflects his new style, though it also reveals his continued interest in imaginative subjects.
Cézanne was working in Aix at the time of the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876 and so did not take part in it, but for the third, in 1877, he submitted 16 works. While there had been a slight softening in the attitudes of some critics towards the work of other participants, Cézanne was again singled out for ridicule, and his portrait of the collector Victor Chocquet (1876–7; priv. col., see Rewald, 1936, Eng. trans. 1986, p. 117) was particularly attacked. He was deeply hurt by this reaction and resolved to take no part in further group shows with his Impressionist friends. Given the repeated failure of his works to be accepted at the Salon, this decision closed off the only form of access to the public available to him at that time. While the Impressionists devoted themselves primarily to plein-air painting, during the period of his flirtation with Impressionism Cézanne continued to paint some imaginary subjects and such still-lifes as Overturned Fruit Basket (1873–7; Glasgow A.G. & Mus.). In particular he produced a number of flower paintings (e.g. Green Vase, 1873–7; Philadelphia, PA, Mus. A.), and this sustained interest in studio painting reflects his cautious approach to the Impressionist aesthetic. This caution is furthermore evidenced by the fact that Cézanne chose to adopt Pissarro’s form of Impressionism. This is not as light and spontaneous as, for example, that of Monet: Pissarro built up his works by the careful application of brushstrokes. Nevertheless, his influence on Cézanne lent a greater immediacy to the younger painter’s style, as well as encouraging him to work outside.
In the mid-1870s Cézanne produced his first works on the theme of bathers, a subject that interested him increasingly thereafter. He depicted groups, placed in landscape settings, of female bathers (e.g. Three Women Bathers, 1875–7) and of male bathers (e.g. Four Male Bathers, 1875–6; both Merion Station, PA, Barnes Found.), the latter recalling his boyhood days spent bathing with Zola and their friend Baptistin Baille. Probably on account of his shyness with models and because of the difficulty of using them in parochial Aix, Cézanne constantly reused figures in these works (as he also did in his later works on the theme). Thus the female figure on the far left in Three Women Bathers (1879–82; Paris, Petit Pal.) is the same as that in Five Women Bathers (1879–82; Merion Station, PA, Barnes Found.). In 1878 Cézanne went to live with Hortense and their son in L’Estaque, where he worked again in 1879. Also in 1878, Zola bought a house at Médan, on the Seine near Paris, and from 1879 to 1882 Cézanne made annual visits there. In Paris in 1880 he met Gauguin (V. Merlhès, ed.: Correspondance de Paul Gauguin, Paris, 1984, pp. 350–51), and from May to October 1881 he worked in Pontoise with Pissarro. In 1882 Cézanne stayed at L’Estaque, where Renoir visited him, and in October 1882 he returned to work in Aix at Le Jas de Bouffan. Between c. 1878 and 1882 Cézanne moved away from the style of other Impressionist painters in search of greater structure, as shown in Bridge at Maincy (1879; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay), where flat areas of colour in large, geometric brushstrokes cover the surface of the canvas. Water is used for its density rather than the reflective, shimmering surface that so appealed to the Impressionists. Zola’s House at Médan (c. 1880; Glasgow, Burrell Col.; for illustration <I>see</I> <link target-type="theme" target-id="10173">Post-impressionism</link>) is also executed in careful, parallel brushstrokes, examples of the so-called ‘constructive stroke’.
(iii) Period of synthesis, 1883–c. 1895
During this period Cézanne placed the accent more on mass and structure, and his composition consequently became more architectural. This continued move away from Impressionism was motivated by his belief that the painter must interpret as well as record the scene before him. The role of the brain was as important as that of the eye and the two must work in harmony, an attitude implicit in his comment on Monet: ‘He is nothing but an eye, yet what an eye!’. From 1883 to 1885 Cézanne executed the core of his work at Aix and at L’Estaque, where he was visited by Renoir and Monet in February 1884. The intense light of L’Estaque sharply outlines forms, and Cézanne spent months painting different views of the landscape there. He simplified and synthesized the scenes in compositions built up of verticals, horizontals and diagonals, as in Rocks at L’Estaque (1883–5; São Paulo, Mus. A. Mod.). These works attest to the profound modification that he brought to his conception of landscape, in which he broke with the traditional conception of successive planes defining depth of field. He emphasized the foreground by using asymmetrically framed views. His brushstrokes became broader and thicker, and sometimes the use of a palette knife can be seen. L’Estaque also inspired most of Cézanne’s landscapes representing the sea, such as Gulf of Marseille Seen from L’Estaque (1883–5; New York, Met.). No life animates these views, and the sea, which is almost always enclosed by the land and hills, is treated rather like a mirror, an immobile—as if vitrified—surface. Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire most concentratedly from the mid-1880s up to his death. He produced many variants, including about thirty paintings and many watercolours, in which rhythm, form and colour are indissolubly unified. The most detailed and precise works were those done around 1884–8, such as Mont Sainte-Victoire (1885–7; U. London, Courtauld Inst. Gals), while other, more visionary versions followed until his last years. Presenting a clear geometric form, Cézanne studied the mountain for the structure of its various planes, which are cleanly delimited in broad facets of a rigorous equilibrium.
In March 1886 Cézanne fell out with Zola following the publication of the latter’s novel L’Oeuvre in Paris: Cézanne thought he recognized himself in the principal figure Claude Lantier, a failed artist who commits suicide. Cézanne never saw Zola again. In April 1886 he married Hortense with the consent of his father, who died on 23 October, leaving Cézanne a large inheritance, and from 1886 until his death he divided his time mainly between Paris and Aix. In 1888 he worked for a time in Chantilly and in 1889 exhibited with Les XX in Brussels, writing to its organizer, Octave Maus, that: ‘I had made up my mind to work in silence … until the time when I would feel able to back up theoretically the fruits of my research’ (Correspondance, p. 227). At this time Cézanne seems to have emerged from his isolation and solitude. In 1890 he spent five months in Switzerland with his family, his only period abroad, and in 1892 he bought a house at Marlotte near the forest of Fontainebleau. He worked there at various times in the following few years, and it was probably at Fontainebleau that he painted Rocks in the Forest (c. 1894; New York, Met.). In 1894 he visited Monet at Giverny, where he met Auguste Rodin, the journalist and politician Georges Clemenceau and the writer Gustave Geffroy, and in 1895 he painted views of the Bibémus Quarry, near Aix, and of Mont Sainte-Victoire.
Throughout this synthetic period Cézanne painted numerous still-lifes that reflect his constructive concerns at this time. In Still-life (1883–7; Cambridge, MA, Fogg) he used a dark background, as he had in earlier works, and, as in many still-lifes, he also included a tablecloth to provide tonal contrast and to add structure through the creases and folds. Such later works of this period as Still-life with Basket of Apples (1890–94; Chicago, IL, A. Inst.) are executed in brighter, more luminous colours. The light blue background tends to flatten the picture space, an aspect further emphasized by the raising of the composition towards the viewer. (For an illustration of his Still-life with Plaster Cupid (c. 1895)
Hortense was a frequent subject of Cézanne’s portrait works. In Mme Cézanne in a Yellow Chair (1890; Chicago, IL, A. Inst.) she is depicted as calm and fashionably dressed in a typical image of a bourgeois woman. Among numerous other interior scenes from this period is the Boy with the Red Vest (c. 1895; Zurich, Stift. Samml. Bührle), in which all the volumes are created through the articulation of planes, the various facets being used to underpin the structure. The right arm of the young boy is deliberately elongated and deformed, so enhancing the sense of the sitter’s relaxation and emphasizing the compositional lines: the curve of the back, the bent left arm, the diagonals of the curtain and table and the horizontal of the wall panelling.
Cézanne had not entirely given up his interest in imaginary subjects and in the late 1880s he produced a number of paintings of Harlequin (version, c. 1888–90; Washington, DC, N.G.A.). He also painted several more images of bathers (e.g. Five Women Bathers, 1885–7; Zurich, Kstmus.) in which the figures became more simplified, statuesque and integrated with the landscape. From whatever period, in all his treatments of this subject the trees and the sky form the main part of the setting, while the water remains a scarcely visible element. Among the most important works of the period of synthesis is the series of paintings of Card Players. According to the daughter of one of the models, these were begun in 1890, the year usually accepted as the starting date. The most important versions are those held at the Barnes Foundation in Merion Station, PA, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Courtauld Institute Galleries in London and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. These differ in the framing, in the number of figures and in the colouring, and various theories have been proposed regarding the respective datings. The most probable progression places the brighter, multi-figure works (Merion Station, PA, Barnes Found., and New York, Met.) earlier than the dark, two-figure works (U. London, Courtauld Inst. Gals; and Paris, Mus. d’Orsay). The most famous, the Orsay version, is perhaps the last and thus datable in 1894–5 in keeping with the subsequent development of Cézanne’s work (T. Reff, 1977–8 exh. cat., p. 17). In this final painting a great tension is generated by the forms and poses of the figures, who face one another against a dark field in an enclosed space, creating a deeply mysterious image.
(iv) Late period, c. 1895–1906
In November 1895 Cézanne had his first one-man show, of about 150 works, at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in Paris. Two years later, in 1897, Vollard bought everything in Cézanne’s studio near Corbeil. In 1898 Cézanne worked near Aix at the Château Noir, and in 1899 he sold Le Jas de Bouffan and settled into a flat in Aix, while his wife and son remained in Paris. In 1901 he bought land at Les Lauves, on a hill dominating Aix, where he built a studio, which he settled into the following year. Having spent most of the time since his Impressionist period away from the public, in these last years Cézanne exhibited widely, and his reputation grew. In 1899 Paul Durand-Ruel bought many of his works at the Victor Chocquet sale (1–4 July, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris) and in 1890 the same dealer sent 12 pictures to Berlin, where Paul Cassirer organized Cézanne’s first one-man show in Germany, though the pictures remained unsold. In 1899, 1901 and 1902 Cézanne exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants; in 1901 and 1904 he showed works with La Libre Esthétique in Brussels; in 1903 seven of his pictures were shown by the Secession in Vienna; and in 1904, 1905 and 1906 he exhibited at the Salon d’Automne, where in 1904 a whole room was devoted to his paintings.
Cézanne’s lyrical works from this late period are characterized by more violent colours and a greater articulation of volumes into facets. In his landscapes Cézanne emphasized the rough appearance of sites, mixing wild vegetation with rocks in unusual, asymmetric framings. His composition became less serene and his colour more violent. In the foreground he often incorporated red-orange rocks, inspired by those of the Bibémus Quarry and the estate of Château Noir. At these locations he scrupulously studied the overlapping of trees and rocks that sprang from the earth, as shown in Bibémus Quarry (c. 1895; Essen, Mus. Flkwang), where the huge blocks of red rock create lines of tumbling diagonals, giving the work a sense of instability. The works of the same scenes from the early 1900s have an even greater turbulence created through the fragmented manner of execution as well as the composition, as in Château Noir (1900–04; Washington, DC, N.G.A.). Even in the last years of his life Cézanne pursued his quest after nature untiringly, and in a letter of 29 January 1904 to Louis Aurenche he wrote of ‘a long day spent grappling with the difficulties of expressing nature’ (Correspondance, p. 294).
The most extraordinary landscapes of the late period are the series of paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire that Cézanne produced from 1900 until his death. Composed of discrete patches of colour, the image becomes almost illegible beneath the intricate surface pattern of brushstrokes, showing a tendency towards abstraction, as in Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen From Les Lauves (1904–6; Basle, Kstmus.). Many contain areas of intense blue, especially in the depiction of the sky (e.g. Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1902–6; Philadelphia, PA, Mus. A.). His severe analytical approach, coupled with his treatment of unpopulated natural scenes, distances the works from humanity. One of Cézanne’s most famous statements, in a letter to Emile Bernard of 15 April 1904, describes this analytical method (Correspondance, p. 296):Deal with nature as cylinders, spheres and cones, all placed in perspective so that each aspect of an object or a plane goes towards a central point…. Now, for us men, nature consists more of depth than of surface, whence the need to introduce into our vibrations of light, represented by reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of shades of blue to make the air felt.Cézanne did not aim at a traditional representation of nature; he rather sought, above all, to express the idea of the internal construction of that which he had before him, to capture the unchanging element beneath the surface: ‘Nature is always the same, but of that aspect which appears to us, nothing lasts. Our art must give to it the frisson of its duration with the elements, the semblance of all these changes’. Though speaking of a different motif, his ability to work at the same subject in so many works is explained in a letter he wrote to his son Paul on 8 September 1906 (Correspondance, p. 322):Here, on the river bank, there are so many motifs, the same subject seen from another angle offers a subject of the most compelling interest and so varied that I believe I could work away for months without changing position, but by just leaning a little to the right and then a little to the left.
In several of the late works of Mont Sainte-Victoire, as well as in many other works of the period, Cézanne left parts of the canvas bare. Some of these paintings, such as Mont Sainte-Victoire (1904–6; Zurich, Ksthaus) and Cabanon de Jourdan (1906; Milan, Jucker priv. col., see 1977–8 exh. cat., p. 286), are executed with extremely diluted oils. Undoubtedly Cézanne’s investigations in the domain of watercolour (see §2 below) influenced this oil painting technique, as Fry (1927) and then Venturi (1943) noticed, leading to the explosive liberation in the last works: greater rapidity of execution, lightness and fluidity. Some considered these works unfinished, and Cézanne explained this aspect of his work in a letter to Bernard on 23 October 1905 (Correspondance, p. 313): ‘The sensations of colour that light gives create abstractions that don’t let me cover my canvas or follow the outlines of objects when the points of contact are tenuous, delicate; thus my image or picture is incomplete’. Here Cézanne broke with the long established tradition of highly finished and perfected paintings, at that time still the only recognized goal. He therefore presaged the later interest in the art of non-finish and in a certain form of Tachism. In Garden at Les Lauves (1904–6; Washington, DC, Phillips Col.) these tendencies are particularly evident: several areas of canvas are exposed and the rest covered with large, separate colour marks, leading to a near dissolution of the subject. Another bold innovation of the late works is found in Cézanne’s expression of space, which is most apparent in such still-lifes as Still-life with Onions (1895–1900; Paris, Louvre). He abandoned classical perspective for good: there were no longer any vanishing lines. Ignoring single-point perspective, he contrived multiple viewpoints inside the picture space. This gave each object several facets, a process later extended by the Cubists. Subjected to multiple distortions, objects lose their spatial depth but are emphasized by wide rings of dark or red-orange colour. Tables covered with draperies or tablecloths, on which objects are set, lose their relief in relation to the other planes of the picture and appear to topple forward.
Cézanne told his dealer, Vollard, that: ‘The result of art is the figure’. However, with Victor Chocquet, Vollard was one of the rare collectors to commission his own portrait from the artist. After over one hundred sittings Cézanne apparently abandoned the resulting work, Ambroise Vollard (1899; Paris, Petit Pal.), claiming that the only thing he was not dissatisfied with was the shirt front. His slow work rate and need for so many sittings partly explain why most of his late portraits are of anonymous figures, such as Man with a Pipe Leaning on a Table (1895–1900; Mannheim, Städt. Ksthalle), Man with Folded Arms (1895–1900; New York, Guggenheim) and the various Card Players. They also reflect the fact that Cézanne approached his sitters as if they were still-lifes (he wanted Vollard to sit like an apple); his prime concern was not so much their identity as the compositional problems they presented. In his last years Cézanne also painted several portraits of Vallier (version, 1902–6; London, Tate), his gardener at Les Lauves. Probably his last portrait is Self-portrait with a Beret (c. 1898–1900; Boston, MA, Mus. F.A.), which is composed of large, flat areas of colour and has a complete lack of superfluous detail. He presents himself as serene and magisterial, seated against a plain background .
The culmination of Cézanne’s images of bathers was the series of Large Bathers (London, N.G.; Merion Station, PA, Barnes Found.; Philadelphia, PA, Mus. A.). These were painted between 1895 and 1906 in overlapping periods, during which the framing, colour and background settings were altered. As with the Card Players, the chronology of the series is not clear, though it seems most probable that the version in the Barnes Foundation was started first, then that in the National Gallery in London and finally that in the Museum of Art in Philadelphia. This suggests datings of 1895–1906, 1900–06 and c. 1906 respectively (T. Reff, 1977–8 exh. cat., pp. 38–44; M. L. Krumrine, 1989 exh. cat.). Thus, in contrast to the Card Players series, where the number of figures was reduced, in these works the number of bathers went from 8 to 11 to 14. The compressed arrangement of figures in the first two versions gives way to the more spacious composition of the last, in which the bathers are ordered in two pyramidal groupings, a geometry echoed by the triangular vault of trees above them. The static composition in this last version creates a serenity that is further enhanced by the predominant use of blue. As in the preceding bather works, Cézanne frequently repeated the poses of the figures in this series and likewise painted them with few individual features. Contemporaneously with these large works he painted a number of smaller images of the same subject, as in Bathers (1895–8; Aix-en-Provence, Mus. Granet), in which many of the poses resemble those in the first of the Large Bathers.
In his late works Cézanne maintained his fascination for nature and at the same time sought a means to express himself through it, as he remarked to Louis Aurenche on 24 January 1904 (Correspondance, p. 294): ‘if a strong feeling for nature—and mine is certainly intense—is the necessary basis for any artistic concept, upon which rest the grandeur and beauty of future work, a knowledge of the means of expressing our emotion is no less essential and can only be gained through long experience’. In these works ‘the objective sought is no longer to describe reality but to express a spiritual concept’ (J. Rewald, 1978 exh. cat., p. 198). Cézanne’s late works reveal him to be at the turning-point of two eras, of two worlds. This is especially true of the Large Bathers, which foreshadows Cubism, particularly Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907; New York, MOMA).
Cézanne first started to use watercolour seriously in the mid-1860s, producing such works as House in Provence (1865–7; Paris, Louvre). Until the early 1870s he used heavy body colour, and the bold, turbulent style of these watercolours resembled that found in the oils. During his Impressionist period the medium became secondary as it was incompatible with the style used in oils, in which thick layers of carefully applied paint were used. With the advent of his ‘constructive stroke’ in about 1880 Cézanne realized that watercolour was unable to create the substance and volume he desired and he therefore began to use the medium more independently. From the 1880s the composition of the watercolours was rigorously arranged according to linear rhythms, reflecting Cézanne’s wish to contrast the objectivity of his perception with the subjective vision of the Impressionists. In the watercolours of the last period (exhibited by Vollard in 1905) the works not only were independent of the oils but even significantly influenced the latter, and a double evolution took place, both in the system of composition and in the framing of motifs. The central importance of architectonic elements in his late works is shown by the House on the Water’s Edge (c. 1898; Basle, priv. col., see Rewald, 1983), in which a harmonious equilibrium is established between the network of verticals of the trees and the diagonals of the roofs and shoreline.
In many watercolours Cézanne seems to have been concerned with capturing the effects of reflections and movement in nature. In Pots of Flowers (c. 1883–7; Paris, Louvre), reflections appear between the masses of leaves, while the terracotta pots and the background are enlivened by moving shadows in an almost Impressionist style. In a later watercolour of the same subject (1902–6; untraced, see Rewald, 1983) the reflections are enriched by an interplay of transparencies and vibrations resulting from his more elliptical, fragmented vision. These effects were developed until they resembled the reflections on coloured glass, as in such studies of undergrowth as Trees Forming a Vault (1904–6; New York, Rose and Henry Pearlman Foundation, priv. col., see Rewald, 1983). In this work the composition created by the verticals of the trees constitutes a sort of weft on which triangular dabs of watercolour and then pencil strokes are superimposed. Cézanne structured some watercolours around reflections of light, as suggested in his letter to Bernard in 1905: ‘Draw, but remember: the play of light defines the object, light contains all’ (Correspondance, p. 311). This sort of structure is evident in River at the Bridge of the Trois Sautets (1906; Cincinnati, OH, A. Mus.), and referring to this motif Cézanne wrote to his son Paul on 14 August 1906: ‘I began a watercolour like those I did in Fontainebleau; it seems more harmonious to me; the whole thing is to put in as much consonance as possible’ (Correspondance, p. 320). The studies of skulls set on draperies express another aspect of this pursuit. In the three works of that series (e.g. Three Skulls, 1902–6; Chicago, IL, A. Inst.) Cézanne was concerned, among other things, with how the reflections of the vivid hues of the cloth play on both the surfaces of the skulls and on the background planes, which he enlivened with light, unstable, informal splashes.
The form of Tachism found in both Cézanne’s late oils and watercolours reflects his refusal to ‘circumscribe outlines with black’ (letter to Emile Bernard, 23 Oct 1905, Correspondance, p. 313) in the cloisonnist manner. For example, the pots and bottles in Kitchen Table: Pots and Bottles (1902–6; Paris, Louvre) are evoked by masses of light, imprecise coloration in cylindrical forms. This work clearly contrasts with such still-lifes of the years 1885–7 as the Small Green Jug (Paris, Louvre) in which the form, the weight and the material vividly assert themselves. In several watercolours of the last period the close alliance between form and colour appears to be broken in favour of a new dissolution of forms. To this group of more informal works belongs Study of Foliage (1900–04; New York, MOMA), composed of a few patches of watercolour over light pencil lines. The black stripes and scratchings in pencil bear no relation to the form and contours but rather correspond to the direction of the branches and shadows. The mass of leaves is depicted as if it were an unstable fabric, without fixed contours.
Cézanne’s late still-lifes, executed in alternating styles, have a great diversity that creates particularly acute problems of dating. Until the years 1890–95 the still-lifes were set in well-defined spaces, generally on tables whose edges were precisely delimited and whose backgrounds were distinctly indicated. After 1895 the support and setting sometimes became less important, while the objects themselves were emphasized using vivid coloration, as in Apples, Pears and Casserole (1900–04; Paris, Louvre). Sometimes objects seem to be suspended in space as in Kitchen Table: Pots and Bottles (1902–6; Paris, Louvre), where the pots and bottles appear to float above the surface of the table, the contours of which are invisible. The colour was applied in rapid, superimposed brushstrokes disregarding the preliminary sketch. In addition to the numerous still-lifes of this late period, Cézanne continued his prolonged study of the motif of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Like the oils, these have slightly different framings, and the very multiplicity of the works tends to distance the subject itself. The two specific qualities of watercolour, transparency and lightness, were developed to their highest level in this series, as shown, for example, by the remarkably diaphanous Mont Sainte-Victoire (1900–02; Paris, Louvre) executed in a range of pale colours. In the watercolours of the last period the analysis is based on a series of contrasts, oppositions and often contradictions. A total contrast is established between the two simultaneous series of Mont Sainte-Victoire and of the gardener Vallier (e.g. Vallier in Profile, 1906; Chicago, IL, priv. col., see Rewald, 1983, pl. 50). In the former the watercolour is used in very diluted, broad splashes of pale colours, while in the latter the expressively sketched figure is modelled by multiple fine, curvilinear and calligraphic brushstrokes of pure colour. Thus the two series reflect the two poles of Cézanne’s work: constructive synthesis and expressionistic intensity.