In May 1883 Cézanne wrote to his boyhood friend Emile Zola, "...I have rented a little house and garden at l'Estaque just above the station and at the foot of the hill, where behind me rise the rocks and the pines...climbing the hills as the sun goes down one has a glorious view of Marseilles in the background and the islands, all enveloped towards evening to very decorative effect" (P. Cézanne, Letters, Paris, 1941, p. 209). Cézanne made his first extended visit to the village in 1864, returning at least eight times during the 1870s and the early- to mid-1880s. Located thirty kilometers from the Cézannes's family estate in Aix-en-Provence, and just seven miles from the center of Marseilles, l'Estaque was a perfect retreat from life at home and from the sprawling regional capital across the gulf. Approximately twenty views of the site have survived from Cézanne's numerous sojourns to the village, in addition to drawings and watercolors.
Zola lyrically described l'Estaque and the surrounding landscape in his novel, Naïs Micoulin:
A market town situated at the farthest suburban reaches of Marseilles, at the end of a rocky cul-de-sac, which closes off the bay... The countryside is superb. From both sides of the bay rocky arms are outstretched so that the offshore islands seem to block the horizon and the sea is nothing but a vast pool, a lake, intensely blue in good weather. At the foot of the mountains, in the background, Marseilles, Marseilles staggering its houses on the low hills... And the coast takes leave of Marseilles, deepens and widens in great indentations before arriving at l'Estaque, bordered by the factories that release from time to time tall plumes of smoke...
But l'Estaque is not only this glimpse on the sea. The village, leaning against the mountains, is traversed by paths that are lost in the midst of a chaos of tumbling rocks... Here and there the pathways enlarge, a sparse field of olive trees fills the hollow of a valley, an abandoned house shows its painted façade, with shutters closed... High up, above the black border of the pines, the sky places its endless stripe of fine blue silk.
And there is also the narrow coast between the rocks and the sea, the red earth where the tile factories, the great industry of the region, have dug immense holes to extract the clay...
When this countryside, so dried up, gets deeply wet, it takes on a violence of color and perfume: the red earth bleeds, the pines have emerald highlights, the rocks gleam with the whiteness of freshly washed laundry.
With the completion of the Paris-Lyon-Marseilles railway in 1848, the French Midi experienced rapid growth. Colonized first by industry, the region had become a tourist haven by the late nineteenth-century. L'Estaque was no exception. As Richard Thompson observed,
In 1857 a factory was built up one of the inland valleys to produce cement from the indigenous limestone, and in 1884 the mining conglomerate Rio Tinto set up a large facility. The conditions at l'Estaque were particularly propitious for the production of tiles, and in the 1870s some 200,000 tons were exported from local works. As well as being a growing industrial area, l'Estaque retained its pleasant shoreline conveniently close to the city, a distinction recognized by the inhabitants in 1872 when they petitioned the mayor of Marseille to build two new roads, one along the coast to serve the restaurants and seafront pleasures and another inland for commercial traffic. (R. Thomson, Monet to Matisse: Landscape Painting in France, 1874-1914, Edinburgh, 1994, p. 71)
The relation between industry and local tourism appears to have been held in a delicate balance in the years Cézanne painted at l'Estaque, each activity consigned to a proscribed space within the village. Indeed, when Renoir visited Cézanne in l'Estaque in January 1882, his comments to a friend--and for that matter, a view of the mountains he painted (fig. 1)--reveal nothing about the intrusion of industry into the local landscape: "How beautiful it is!" he exclaimed. "It's certainly the most beautiful place in the world, and not yet inhabited... There are only some fishermen and the mountains...so there are no walls, no properties or few...here I have the true countryside at my doorstep" (quoted in J. House, Renoir, London, 1985, p. 233). By the turn of the century, however, Cézanne could not ignore the extent to which village life had been transformed by industry and modernization: "Unfortunately what we call progress," he wrote to his god-daughter in 1902, "is nothing but the invasion of bipeds who do not rest until they have transformed everything into hideous quais with gas lamps--and, what is worse--with electric illumination!" (quoted in R. Thompson, op. cit., p. 72).
To be sure, in Cézanne's views of l'Estaque from the 1870s and 1880s there is a subtle dissimulation of the industrial into the picturesque landscape. In paintings roughly contemporaneous with Les toits de l'Estaque (e.g. fig. 4) the tiled roofs of the factories read like mirror images of the distant mountains across the Gulf of Marseilles. And in both the present picture and the Vue sur l'Estaque et le château d'if of 1883-1885 (Rewald, no. 531; Private Collection, on loan to Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), which depicts the same motif from a higher vantage point, the smokestacks are at once aligned with and absorbed by the vertical accents of the trees and foliage. When more overt signs of industry are present, as in the case of smoke billowing from a chimney in Le Golfe de Marseille, vue de l'Estaque of 1885 (Rewald, no. 626; The Art Institute, Chicago), they too are absorbed within the vast expanse of the panoramic landscape and the harmonious organization of form that characterizes Cézanne's constructive transformation of nature.
Much has been written about the relation between Cézanne's art and the classical tradition of the paysage composé, which experienced a steady revival in the 1870s and 1880s. In a general way, Cézanne turned to the ideal landscape formulae of Poussin and Claude in order to organize his sensations before nature and to establish a harmonious and picturesque composition. As Cézanne wrote to Zola in the letter of May 1883 cited above, "I am still busy painting--I have some beautiful views but they do not quite make motifs." In Cézanne's mind, a spontaneous sketch d'après nature remained separate from, although integral to, the idea of a fully realized composition.
Indeed, however much Cézanne's landscapes are grounded in the direct observation of nature, the conventions of the picturesque already dictated his choice of motif. As are Cézanne's views of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the l'Estaque paintings are characterized by a layered, horizontal composition, with a central focus and trees along the edges of the canvas serving as framing devices. In Les toits de l'Estaque, vertical accents formed by smokestacks, windows, and the sides of buildings in turn establish the outlines of a rudimentary grid. The existence of a related sketch (fig. 2), in which the motif is viewed from a slightly different perspective, and an independent watercolor of 1878-1882 (fig. 3), in which the tower in the left-hand quadrant of the present picture occupies center stage, points to the artist's intense scrutiny of the motif and his emphasis on the underlying formal structure of his composition. Georges Braque, who painted the Rio Tinto Factories at l'Estaque in 1910 (fig. 5), immediately recognized the full implications of Cézanne's formal logic.
In a frequently quoted letter to Emile Bernard dated April 15, 1904, Cézanne expressed his views on landscape painting:
Allow me to repeat what I said to you here: treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, with everything put in perspective so that each side on an object or a plane is directed toward a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon convey breadth, whether of a section of nature, or if you prefer, of the spectacle that the Pater Omnipotens Aeterne Deus spreads out before our eyes. Lines perpendicular to this horizon convey depth. Now nature, for us men, is more depth than surface, hence the need to introduce into our vibration of light, represented by reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blue, to make the air palpable. (Quoted in F. Cachin, Cézanne, Philadelphia, 1996, p. 18)
As this passage suggests, Cézanne sought to develop a visual system that would give shape and structure to his sensory experience of light and space. The surface of the canvas was the site where art and nature, theory and practice, would meet. Lawrence Gowing has preceptively described Cézanne's approach:
It seems that a hypersensitive alertness to the varying angles at which the cone of sight meets a surface stimulated him to imagine the corresponding varieties of light and color that were reflected. He was well aware that his mutations of color originated as much in theory as in observation. When one of his visitors was puzzled to find him painting a gray wall green, he explained that a sense of color was developed not only by work but by reasoning. In fact the need was both emotional and intellectual. The mutations of color with which he modulated surfaces that would have seemed to a less logical mind to require no modeling whatever were a necessity to him... Cézanne told Bernard, "I never wanted and will never accept a lack of modeling or gradation. C'est un non-sens!" For him color and modulation was the sense of painting. (L. Gowing, "The Logic of Organized Sensations," in exh. cat., Cézanne: The Late Work, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1977, pp. 57-58)
Les toits de l'Estaque fully corresponds to Cézanne's conception of landscape painting as a reasoned articulation of sensory perception.
(fig. 1) Pierre-Auguste Renoir, L'Estaque, 1882
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(fig. 2) Paul Cézanne, Maisons à l'Estaque, 1881-1884
(fig. 3) Paul Cézanne, Les toits de l'Estaque, 1878-1882
Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam
(fig. 4) Paul Cézanne, Le Golfe de Marseille, vu de l'Estaque, circa 1885
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
(fig. 5) Georges Braque, Les usines de Rio Tinto à l'Estaque, 1910
Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
Les toits de l'Estaque
Oil on canvas
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Paintings by Contemporary French Artists, Jan., 1916, no. 13
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Foreign and American Painters, Nov.-Dec., 1916, no. 6
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum, April, 1919
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings, May-Sept., 1921, no. 6 (illustrated)
New York, Union League Club, Modern Pictures Representing Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Expressionist and Cubist Painters, April, 1924, no. 9
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Paul Cézanne, Jan., 1928, no. 16
Paris, Galerie Pigalle, Cézanne 1839-1906, 1929, p. 17, no. 3
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Summer Loan Exhibition, June-Sept., 1930, no. 20
San Francisco, Museum of Art, Paul Cézanne, Sept.-Oct., 1937, p. 24, no. 15 (illustrated)
New York, World's Fair, Masterpieces of Art, 1940, p. 236, no. 349
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., 21 Masterpieces by 7 Great Masters, Nov.-Dec., 1948, p. 22, no. 2 (illustrated, p. 23)
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Lewisohn Collection, Nov.-Dec., 1951, p. 13, no. 11
Chicago, The Art Institute, Cézanne, Feb.-March, 1952, no. 46 (illustrated, p. 46). The exhibition traveled to New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, April-May, 1952.
Vienna, Belvedere, Paul Cézanne, April-June, 1961, p. 26, no. 22 (illustrated, pl. 15)
23¾ x 28¾ in. (60.2 x 73 cm.)
M.J. Friedlander, "Uber Paul Cézanne," Die Kunst für Alle, Feb., 1922, p. 145 (illustrated)
G. Rivière, Le maître Paul Cézanne, Paris, 1923, p. 210
L. Réau, L'Art français aux Etats-Unis, Paris, 1926, p. 147
J. Mauny, "Cézanne: The Old Master," Drawing and Design, Jan., 1927, p. 20 (illustrated)
K. Pfister, Cézanne: Gestalt, Werk, Mythos, Potsdam, 1927, p. 6 (illustrated, pl. 62)
S. Bourgeois, The Adolph Lewisohn Collection of Modern French Paintings and Sculpture, New York, 1928, pp. vii and 179 (illustrated, p. 178)
E. von Térey, "Die Sammlung Adolph Lewisohn, New York," Kunst und Künstler, Aug., 1929, p. 423 (illustrated)
R.H. Wilenski, French Painting, Boston, 1931, p. 309
S.A. Lewisohn, "Drama in Painting," Creative Art, Sept., 1931, p. 191 (illustrated)
S. Bourgeois and W. George, "The French Paintings of the XIX and XX Centuries in the Adolph and Samuel Lewisohn Collection," Formes, 1932, pp. 304-305 (illustrated)
S. Cheney, Expressionism in Art, New York, 1934, p. xix (illustrated, p. 111)
L. Venturi, Cézanne, son art, son oeuvre, Paris, 1936, vol. I, p. 153, no. 405 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 113)
J. Rewald, Cézanne et Zola, Paris, 1936, fig. 51 (illustrated)
Bulletin of the San Francisco Museum of Art Association, Sept., 1937 (illustrated)
S. Lewisohn, Painters and Personality, New York, 1937, pp. 39-40 (illustrated, p. 38, pl. 19)
F. Novotny, Cézanne und das Ende der wissenschaftlichen Perspecktive, Vienna, 1938, p. 205, no. 108
S. Cheney, The Story of Modern Art, New York, 1947, p. 207 (illustrated)
R.M. Rilke, Briefe über Cézanne, Wiesbaden, 1952, pl. 8 (illustrated)
The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, 1956, p. 34, no. 1134 (illustrated)
L. Gowing, "Notes on the Development of Cézanne, Burlington Magazine, June, 1956
R. Lynes, Good Old Modern, New York, 1973, p. 315
S. Orienti, L'opera completa di Cézanne, Milan, 1970, p. 105, no. 416 (illustrated)
A.H. Barr, Jr., Painting and Sculpture in The Museum of Modern Art, 1929-1967, New York, 1977, p. 640 (illustrated, p. 12)
The Frances and John L. Loeb Collection, London, 1982, no. 16 (illustrated in color)
C. Tomkins, "Profiles: William S. Rubin," The New Yorker, Nov. 4, 1985, pp. 70-71
J. Rewald, Cézanne and America: Dealers, Collectors, Artists and Critics, 1891-1921, Princeton, 1989, p. 301 (illustrated, fig. 152)
J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, vol. I, no. 519, p. 352 (illustrated, vol. II, p. 168)
Collection Fabre, Aix-en-Provence
Jos. Hessel, Paris
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (Oct., 1907)
Paul Cassirer, Berlin
Jos. Hessel, Paris
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (April, 1908)
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Paris and New York (Nov., 1915)
Stephan Bourgeois Gallery, New York (Nov., 1918)
Adolph Lewisohn, New York
Samuel A. Lewisohn, New York
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (gift from the above in 1956)
Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., New York (acquired from the above in 1971)
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the late owners on May 18, 1972
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