Until the publication of John Rewald's catalogue raisonné of the work of Cézanne in 1996, Maisons dans la verdure had remained largely unknown. It entered the collection of Ralph H. Booth, Grosse Point, Michigan in June 1926 but was not exhibited in public after 1931 when it was included in an exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Lionello Venturi's dating of 1879-1882 was revised to circa 1881 by Rewald who stated that "the blue slate roofs would indicate that this is not a southern landscape. Stylistically it relates to Cézanne's work in and around Pontoise of 1881; in view of the fact that he spent five months in the region, this is probably one of the paintings executed that year" (John Rewald, op. cit., vol. 1, no. 485, p. 328).
Painted largely in shades of dark green and ochre with touches of blue and white, the present work was executed at a turning point in Cézanne's development. During the previous decade it is impossible to overestimate the influence of Camille Pissarro on Cézanne as he gradually moved away from the feverish romanticism of his early work. Joseph J. Rishel has summarized this relationship as follows: "In August 1872, several months after the birth of his son, Cézanne left Paris for the village of Pontoise, about an hour west of the city. The principal attraction of this place was Pissarro, who had lived and work there since 1863. At the end of the year Cézanne moved with his family to the nearby town of Auvers-sur-Oise. This short move did not interrupt the close working relationship he had developed with the older artist. Pissarro is justly credited with having transformed Pissarro's style and, to some degree, his temperament by encouraging him to interact more fully with nature and by initiating him into a more deliberate, less subjective approach to his craft. The mutual influence that ensued between these two artists over the next ten years is one of the great chapters in the history of nineteenth century painting. At its beginning, the sage Pissarro endeavored to calm the ferocious young Cézanne, but, as time passed, the pupil progressively found himself in the lead, encouraging the older artist to follow his example in testing the limits of Impressionist landscape painting.
From May to October 1881, Cézanne rented a house at 31, quai du Pothuis in Pontoise, within easy walking distance of Pissarro. It was to be his last stay in the region, a place where he painted some of his most beautiful pictures and, it is often maintained, reached artistic maturity" (Cézanne (exhibition catalogue) Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Tate Gallery, London; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1995-96, p. 229).
A comparison of the present work with two other canvases from the same moment - Le Château de Médan, circa 1880 (see fig. 1) and Le Moulin sur la Couleuvre à Pontoise, 1881 (see fig. 2) - is instructive for the light it throws on Cézanne's refusal to restrict himself to one particular way of working. In Le Château de Médan he worked with a fully loaded brush, carefully aligning the brushstrokes in the different zones of the composition to convey the spatial relationship of the river in the foreground, the vertical trunks of the trees in the middle distance partially concealing the chateau and the hills in the distance. In Le Moulin sur la Couleuvre à Pontoise the pigment was more thinly applied over the white priming. More rustic in feeling than the previous work, it shows a greater response on Cézanne's part to momentary felicities such as the ducks or geese on the pond which are more commonly associated with Pissarro. Suffused with light, it differs markedly in feeling from Maisons dans la verdure in which the white ground plays little or no part and the sky can only be glimpsed.
Cézanne responded equally to the brilliant light of Provence and to the more subdued light of the North. He had a particular affinity for sous-bois scenes, returning to them later in life in an extraordinary group of canvases painted in the forest around the Château Noir (see fig. 3). When he painted Maisons dans la verdure he had not yet reached the stage in his development when traces of human habitation might be regarded as an intrusion. The isolated house with its white walls and blue-tiled roof is the focal point of the composition although it is located in the middle distance and approachable only by a partially obscured diagonal path. The challenge Cézanne set himself in the present work was how to give structure to a composition which with the exception of the vertical elements of two tree trunks to the left and less clearly defined forms to the right is composed of masses of foliage. Using looser brushwork and more broadly modulated areas of color than in other works from the same moment in his development, he succeeded triumphantly in revealing order where none really existed, a view of an unremarkable house in the middle of a dense forest.
Fig. 1, Paul Cézanne, Le Chàteau de Médan, circa 1880, oil on canvas, Glasgow Museum, The Burrell Collection
Fig. 2, Paul Cézanne, Le Moulin sur la Couleuvre à Pontoise, 1881, oil on canvas, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Fig. 3, Paul Cézanne, Rochers près des grottes au-dessus du Château Noir, circa 1904, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Oil on canvas
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Trente ans d'art indépendant, 1926, no. 2875a
31 7/8 by 25 1/2 in. 81 by 65 cm
Pierre Courthion, Panorama de la peinture française contemporaine, Paris, 1927, illustrated pl. 33
François Fosca, "Trente ans d'art indépendant," Arts et Décoration, Paris, April 1926, illustrated p. 99
Lionello Venturi, Cézanne: Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Paris, 1936, no. 308, catalogued; vol. II, illustrated pl. 83
Robert Goldwater, "Cézanne in America: The Master's Paintings in American Collections," The Art New Annual, New York, March 26, 1938, illustrated p. 152
John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New York, 1996, no. 485, catalogued p. 328, vol. II, illustrated p. 156
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Cagnes (acquired from the artist)
Maurice Renou, Paris
Galerie Barbazanges, Paris
Ralph H. Booth, Grosse Pointe (acquired from the above in 1926)
Ralph and Mary Booth (by descent from the above and sold: Christie's, London, June 20, 2006, lot 108)
Acquired at the above sale