Painted circa 1881, Maisons dans la verdure is a significant landscape by Cézanne whose importance is reflected in the fact that it was formerly in the collection of the artist's friend, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This picture, being sold by members of the Booth family of Detroit, has not been on public display since 1931, and has never before been seen at auction.
It was during the early 1880s that Cézanne made the most important breakthroughs in his attempt to deconstruct and reassemble the whole concept of painting, and the resultant Post-Impressionism, which he was honing during the very period that Maisons dans la verdure was painted, would come to change the entire history of art. For it was when Cézanne's paintings were shown publicly on a large scale for the first time in his posthumous exhibition in 1907 that many new movements and avant-garde artists had their epiphanies. By no means least among these were Picasso and Braque, whose development of Cubism clearly grew on the shoulders of the late Master of Aix. Cézanne himself perhaps predicted this when he declared, 'I am the primitive of a new art' (Cézanne, quoted in F. Cachin et al (ed.), Cézanne, exh.cat., Paris, London & Philadelphia, 1996, p. 220).
John Rewald convincingly argued that Maisons dans la verdure was painted during Cézanne's 1881 stay in Pontoise. There, he lived at 31 quai du Pothuis, very close to his mentor Pissarro. The two painters had by now known each other for two decades, and yet Cézanne still sought his presence and advice he was in many ways the only one of his near contemporaries that he took seriously, later claiming that 'Pissarro was a father to me. He was a wise counsellor and something like God Almighty' (Cézanne, quoted in Cachin et al (ed.), op.cit., 1996, p. 28). The solace provided by his old mentor was all the more desperately needed in Cézanne's 1881 stay in Pontoise because he had essentially fled Paris, stung by a caricature written by the critic and novelist Edmond Duranty that had been recently published following the author's death. Pontoise had another advantage in that it was only nine miles from Médan, the home of Cézanne's old friend, the author Emile Zola. The landscape around Pontoise and Médan was to become an important forum in which he could experiment with painting, with paring back his pictures to a point at which they provided the viewer with a rawer content, with a purer sense of information; this is famously exemplified in the painting of Zola's home, Le Château de Médan, painted during this period, in which there are layers of receding depth water, foliage then building, a conceit used in a more complex manner in Maisons dans la verdure.
At Pontoise and then at L'Estaque, Cézanne continued to develop an art that combined an intense scrutiny of the act of seeing with a desire to capture something direct, something that would speak directly to the viewer:
'There are two things in painting, vision and mind, and they should work in unison. As a painter, one must try to develop them harmoniously: vision, by looking at nature; mind, by ruling one's senses logically, thus providing the means of expression. This is now my aim' (Cézanne, quoted in F. Elgar, Cézanne, London, 1969, p. 85).
It was during this half-year stay in 1881 that many critics believe Cézanne reached his true artistic maturity, as is evident in the ease with which he manipulates the viewer's sensations in Maisons dans la verdure. Pontoise had long played a part in the artist's life - he had first visited in order to be close to and to learn from Pissarro a decade earlier, in 1872 yet this was to be his last stay there. Despite the presence of his Impressionist mentor only doors away in Pontoise, Maisons dans la verdure reveals how much he had discarded of his Impressionist lessons. Instead, we see here the grounds upon which Post-Impressionism would be built. This is the type of landscape that would later lead artists such as Gauguin and Signac to create the various strands of Post-Impressionism, lending them the confidence to experiment boldly, stripping away all their received 'knowledge' and seeking instead a truth that was pictorial rather than merely visual.
In Maisons dans la verdure the vast strides in Cézanne's development of a new form of representation can be clearly discerned. Cézanne was seeking a means of constructing a landscape through contrasts rather than lines. He deliberately and painstakingly analysed the entire process of representing the three-dimensional world in two dimensions, a process that was inherently flawed and, in the wake of the invention of photography, even redundant. With this in mind, Cézanne has used the feathered brushstrokes that he had learnt from his friend Pissarro, but here they are present less to give an air of Impressionistic spontaneity than to create a sense of planar hatching. These parallel dashes of colour create an assembly of textured forms amongst the greenery, the path and the houses that allows Cézanne to explore this landscape not through lines, but instead through the contrasts of form and of colour. In this way Maisons dans la verdure reveals to what extent Cézanne was 'trying to render perspective by means of colour. There are no lines, no modelling, nothing but contrasts, and these are shown not by black and white but by the feeling of colour. We must show what we see, and forget about everything that has been done before' (Cézanne, quoted in Elgar, op.cit., 1969, p. 71).
In Maisons dans la verdure, Cézanne has deliberately limited his palette in order to emphasise the subtle differences, to instil 'sensations' in the viewer that lead to a more profound and genuine understanding of the scene depicted, an understanding that is not merely a visual experience but one that involves our other faculties in some way and, most importantly, our minds. Here, the various greens that dominate this canvas, ranging from the pine-like trees looming at the sides to the lighter colour of the distant grasslands on the hill, create an intricate visual interplay that conveys the multi-layered sense of perspectival depth by which Cézanne draws the viewer diagonally through the landscape, along the meandering path and then beyond into the far distance. This is accentuated by the stark contrast with the white of the buildings' walls, which gleam in the midst of the foliage. Using these colour contrasts, Cézanne has constructed a landscape formed of forms that border on the geometrical-- most clearly in the walls of the man-made houses, but evident no less in the planes built up of verdure, tree and path-- conveys real information about the solidity of the objects depicted, of their relationship to each other and, importantly, of the invisible space between them. This is reminiscent of the zig-zagging journey upon which the eye of the viewer is taken in other paintings from about this time, be it in La route tournante now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, or even the more open landscape of Moulin sur la Couleuve, à Pontoise in the Nationalgalerie in Berlin. In each of these works, Cézanne has manipulated the appearance of the solid features that articulate the landscape in order to create a visual and sensual journey for the viewer, engaging us with the depicted views and with the paintings themselves.
Cézanne deconstructed and reassembled the entire process of seeing and of representing in his art, and yet his interest was not in the science of optics but instead was based more instinctively on the artistic urge itself. 'I confess to you,' he wrote to Emile Bernard, 'that I'm afraid of too much science and prefer naïveté to it' (Cézanne, quoted in F. Cachin et al (ed.), Cézanne, exh.cat., Paris, London & Philadelphia, 1996, p. 220). It is perhaps for this reason that Georges Seurat was one of the only artists of the Post-Impressionist era to show little interest in Cézanne's paintings, unlike his fellow Pointillist, Paul Signac. Although Cézanne deconstructed the concept of painting, of viewing the world and rendering it in two dimensions, he was interested in doing so in a manner that would translate raw emotional and mental information about the view or the subject, rather than a scientific view which, while intellectually stimulating, would be otherwise cold.
In a letter to Ralph Booth, written in Paris on the 12 August 1926 at the time of his purchase of Maisons dans la verdure, the Galerie Barbazanges stated:
I duly received your letter of the 31st July and your cheque of $15,000.
With present letter I declare that the picture which you bought from me in June and representing a landscape is a picture by Cezanne. As I told you when you were in Paris, this picture comes from the private collection of the painter Renoir, who had it directly from Cezanne as an exchange for a picture by his own.
I hope these informations will give you full satisfaction and enable you to have the best record on it.
Although it has not yet been ascertained what Cézanne was given in return for Maisons dans la verdure, the fact that this picture entered Renoir's collection is itself a reflection not only of the friendship between the two artists- Renoir was one of only a handful of the Impressionists, alongside Monet and of course Pissarro, that he could really endure- but also of the web of bonds and connections that linked so many of the artists of the day. Renoir, who would later come to visit Cézanne several times in L'Estaque and who, even by 1881, had known him for years, possessed at least three works by his friend. For Cézanne was a painter's painter, and this is reflected in the number of prominent and varied artists who owned works by him. Gauguin, who made acerbic comments about Cézanne, nevertheless always thought of him as a great master and wrote that he would give his last shirt before he parted with his pictures by Cézanne. Likewise, Matisse was deeply proud of his picture of bathers, which he eventually donated to a museum. Caillebotte owned a group of pictures by Cézanne, several of which were included in his legendary bequest, although some were refused by the French government, a situation that would later come to benefit other museums. Others were owned by painters as varied as Edgar Degas, Maurice Denis, Paul Signac, Odilon Redon, Max Liebermann and later, Picasso.
Maisons dans la verdure's history provides an intriguing insight into patronage both in France and then later in the United States in the early part of the Twentieth Century. For after passing from Renoir's collection, the picture came into the ownership of the formidable patron, dealer, and collector in his own right, Maurice Renou. A friend of many of the artists of his day (his wife was painted several times by Derain), Renou was also a keen collector of Cézanne's works and indeed owned one of the artist's sketchbooks. The Galerie Renou et Colle, of which he was one of the owners, was one of the most avant-garde in the days before the Second World War and its exhibitions included one dedicated to the art and objects brought from Mexico by the guru of Surrealism, André Breton.
When Maisons dans la verdure was sold by the Galerie Barbazanges to Ralph Booth, it showed exceptional foresight on the part of this veteran collector and philanthropist. Until that point, few paintings by the Master of Aix had entered American collections. The painting has remained in the Booth family's collection until today; unlike so many of the masterpieces that were accumulated by Ralph Booth and which were displayed as either loans or gifts in museums, this painting has not been publicly exhibited since 1931.
Maisons dans la verdure
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF RALPH AND MARY BOOTH
Paris, Grand Palais, Trente ans d'art indépendent, 1926, no. 2875a.
Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Fifth Loan Exhibition, October 1927, no. 70.
New York, Reinhardt Gallery, Loan Exhibition of Paintings, 1928, no. 26 (illustrated). Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Exhibition of Modern French Painting, May 1931, no. 11.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
32 x 25½ in. (81.3 x 64.8 cm.)
P. Courthion, Panorama de la peinture française contemporaire, Paris, p. 38 (illustrated pl. 33).
F. Fosca, 'Trente Ans d'art indépendant', in Arts et Decoration, April 1926, p. 99 (illustrated).
L. Venturi, Cézanne: son art - son oeuvre, vol. I, Paris, 1936, no. 308 (illustrated vol. II, pl. 83).
R. Goldwater, 'The Art News Annual', March 1938-39, in Cézanne in America: The Master's Paintings in American Collections, p. 135 (illustrated p. 152).
G. Plany, Cézanne: catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1991 (illustrated p. 157, fig 16).
J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A catalogue raisonné, vol. I, 1996, no. 485 (illustrated vol. II, p. 156).
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Cagnes, by whom acquired by gift or exchange from the artist.
Maurice Renou, Paris.
Galerie Barbazanges, Paris.
Ralph H. Booth, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, by whom acquired from the above in June 1926 and thence by descent to the present owner.