'I’ve rented a small house with a garden in L’Estaque, just above the station at the foot of the hill, with the rocks and the pines behind me,' Cézanne wrote to Zola in 1883. 'I’m still busy with painting, there are some fine views here. Climbing up high when the sun sets, there’s a beautiful panorama down below of Marseille and the islands, all of it wrapped in the evening light to very decorative effect' (quoted in A. Danchev, ed., The Letters of Paul Cézanne, Los Angeles, 2013, pp. 228-229). Over the next two years, this splendid view provided the basis for some of the most innovative landscapes of Cézanne’s entire career, in which he fully realized his lofty goal to 'make of Impressionism something solid and enduring like the art in museums' (quoted in P.M. Doran, ed., Conversations with Cézanne, Berkeley, 2001, p. 169). These definitive views of L’Estaque, utterly still and serene, are profoundly indebted to the classical landscape tradition of Poussin, which Cézanne used to organize his sensations before nature. At the same time, their abstract, synthetic vision is powerfully modern, as the subsequent generation of the avant-garde – Picasso, Braque, Derain, Matisse, Modigliani, and others – would affirm, exalt, and further advance in their own work, eventually leaving Cézanne’s indelible mark on the entire progression of painting in the twentieth century.
In 1922, some fifteen years after these vanguard artists’ discovery of Cézanne, the prominent industrialist Samuel Courtauld – who would prove instrumental in establishing the artist’s posthumous reputation in Britain – had his own Damascene moment. In the spring of that year, the critic Roger Fry, a dedicated proponent of Post-Impressionism, mounted an ambitious loan exhibition, The French School of the Last Hundred Years, at the Burlington Fine Arts Club. It was here, his friends would later recall, that Courtauld was 'converted' to the art of Cézanne, which remained controversial in England at the time. Courtauld bought his first painting by the Provençal master in May 1923, and over the course of the next decade and a half, he amassed a peerless collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including twelve Cézannes of paramount importance. In 1931, Courtauld spearheaded the founding of the illustrious Institute of Art in London that bears his name. He acquired Vue sur L’Estaque et Le Château d’If in 1936, and it appears on the market now for the first time since that date.
Cézanne most likely painted Vue sur L’Estaque de Le Château d’If during the spring or early summer of 1885, shortly before he left L’Estaque for the very last time. This stately canvas – 'a work of luminous serenity and soaring lyricism,' John Rewald has written, its rare vertical format lending it remarkable concentration and strength – depicts the view due south from the hilltop above the town, looking over the geometrical imbrication of roofs, gables, and chimneys towards the bay of Marseille and the distant islands of Frioul, which seem to float on the horizon (op. cit., 1989, p. 290). Faintly discernible on the nearest island is the square-towered “château” of the painting’s title, actually a sixteenth-century fortress, which is best known as one of the settings for Alexandre Dumas’s adventure novel, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. Two groups of majestic pine trees frame the scene and prevent the eye from getting lost in the distance, their slender trunks and irregular, deftly painted foliage providing a foil for the cubic architecture and the flat blue plane of water and sky.
By the time that Cézanne painted Vue sur L’Estaque de Le Château d’If, more than two decades had passed since his first visit to the town, whose unique topography and brilliant light would inspire such forceful landscape paintings and ultimately reshape his artistic vision. In 1864, when Cézanne was twenty-five, his mother rented a cottage for summer holiday on the heights of L’Estaque, a fishing port and small seaside resort about five miles northwest of Marseille and eighteen miles southwest of Aix, the artist’s childhood home and the site of his family’s estate, the Jas de Bouffan. Cézanne vacationed at L’Estaque periodically for the remainder of the decade and took refuge there with his mistress Hortense Fiquet from mid-1870 through mid-1871, seeking to escape conscription during the Franco-Prussian War. He often returned between 1876 and 1885 for sojourns of varying length, renting a small house in the centre of town; he is securely documented there in June-July 1876, early 1878-March 1879, January-March 1882, May 1883-February 1884, and March 1885.
L’Estaque provided Cézanne with numerous advantages. Setting up his easel at the edge of the pine woods overlooking the bay, he found the privacy and sustained confrontation with nature that were prerequisites for the development of his art. The town was also a convenient distance from Aix, permitting him to stay with Hortense and their son Paul, whose existence he assiduously hid from his domineering father, while making regular visits alone to the Jas de Bouffan. Finally, L’Estaque boasted an ideal geographical location, sheltered from the mistral by the huge, rocky amphitheatre that slopes down to the ocean and even in winter bathed in sunlight. 'The countryside is superb,' Zola wrote in his novel Naïs Micoulin of 1877, a book that Cézanne knew well. 'Rocky arms jut out on either side of the gulf, while the islands off shore seem to block the horizon; and the sea is nothing but a large pool, in fine weather a lake of vivid blue. The coastline leaves Marseille, curves around, forms broad indentations before arriving at L’Estaque. When the sun is high in the sky, the ocean seems to lie sleeping between the two rocky headlands, whose paleness is warmed by yellow and brown. The pines stain the reddish earth with patches of dark green. It is an immense picture, a glimpsed corner of the Orient, rising up in the blinding shimmer of the day' (quoted in ibid., pp. 357-358).
In Cézanne’s earliest views of L’Estaque, painted in the dark, heavily impastoed brushwork of his youth, the sea is not yet a strong presence. It was not until he visited the town in the mid-1870s that he began to paint panoramic views over the bay of Marseille, which would become his iconic subject – an idée fixe in his creative imagination, to which he returned again and again – during his remaining sojourns in the town. His earliest securely datable landscape on this theme, commissioned in 1876 by Victor Chocquet and featured in the Third Impressionist Exhibition the next year, is painted with the light, varied palette and splintered, vibratory touch that Cézanne had learned from his Impressionist mentor Pissarro at Pontoise and Auvers earlier in the decade (Rewald, no. 279; Fondation Rau, Zurich). However, the revelation of L’Estaque – its bright light, sharp contrasts, and heightened colours – soon caused him to re-think his approach. 'It’s like a playing card,' he explained to Pissarro. 'Red roofs against the blue sea. The sun is so fierce that it seems to me as if objects are silhouetted, not only in black or white, but in blue, red, brown, violet. I may be wrong, but this seems to be the very opposite of modelling' (quoted in A. Danchev, ed., op. cit., 2013, p. 158).
On his next trip to L’Estaque in 1878-1879, Cézanne experimented with an increasingly abstract construction of the landscape, in which overlapping planes of colour take the place of conventional modelling and paint is laid down in closely packed, diagonal strokes. He struggled, though, to master these radically new means of expression. 'Nature presents me with the greatest problems,' he lamented (quoted in ibid., p. 199). It was not until the mid-1880s – paradoxically, a period of great sturm und drang in his personal life, culminating in a disastrous love affair with a woman from Aix and an irreparable rupture with his comrade Zola – that he succeeded in realizing on canvas the powerful sensation of immutability and monumentality that he experienced before the motif. 'His paintings of the Gulf of Marseille of circa 1885 offer a far more expansive and harmoniously resolved view than the ones he had laboured to construct [earlier],' Mary Tompkins Lewis has written. 'Though still built around the immense contrasts that had long drawn him to Provence – the brilliant reds, oranges, and greens of buildings and the landscape that oppose the rich violet-blues of the sea and mountains, or the powerfully modelled, volumetric forms and patterned order of the foreground opposing the flat expanse of the sea – all parts are bound together now by the painter’s even, and delicately nuanced, touch... The familiar subject of Provence becomes restorative, even, at times, magisterial' (Cézanne, London, 2000, p. 217).
Vue sur L’Estaque et Le Château d’If epitomizes this constructive transformation of the proud and enduring Provençal landscape. Cézanne has divided the composition into three broad zones of land, sea, and sky bounded by clear horizontals, creating a taut and stable paysage composé. The dark, soaring pines act as repoussoirs that enclose the central coloured vista, and the edges of the tree at the top centre frame the distant island. At the transition between land and sea, the trunk of a tree at the right curves gracefully outward, emphasizing this juncture in the composition. The trees and rocks are painted with the active, diagonally hatched touch that Cézanne had pioneered in the early 1880s, while the middle ground and the distance are rendered with firmer and more blended strokes that follow the contours of the forms. Linking the trees with the land below, however, are the buildings at the left, painted in a light ochre shade that seems to press forward and come to rest beneath the crown of the tree, and the distant smoke-stack, silhouetted against the intense blue of the water, that aligns itself with the right-hand pine. When the painting was exhibited in 1916 at the Montross Gallery in New York, the progressive critic Willard Huntington Wright wrote, 'All [is] melted into an exquisite rhythm. On that rhythm is founded the movement of every branch and object in the canvas; each part, no matter how insignificant, is bent to this common end; each movement is concentrated toward this single compositional purpose. Thus all great art is made' (quoted in J. Rewald, op. cit., 1996, p. 358).
Although Cézanne did not return to L’Estaque after 1886, the year of his marriage to Hortense and his father’s death, the lessons that he took from his prolonged and intense scrutiny of the landscape there were key to the realization of his unique vision. 'L’Estaque seems to have represented a primordial space into which Cézanne deliberately withdrew to engage in an intense and solitary struggle with painting and nature,' Véronique Serrano has written, 'a struggle whose outcome radically altered the painted image and our perception of it for many years to come' (exh. cat., op. cit., 2006, p. 136). In the years following Cézanne’s own death, his paintings from L’Estaque – with their cohesive formal structure of simplified volumes and subtly shifting planes – played a galvanizing role in the development of cubism, the most fundamental re-imagining of pictorial form since the Renaissance. 'The discovery of his work overturned everything,' recalled Braque, who travelled to L’Estaque repeatedly between 1906 and 1910, following in Cézanne’s footsteps. 'I had to rethink everything. I wasn’t alone in suffering from shock. There was a battle to be fought against much of what we knew, what we had tended to respect, admire, or love. In Cézanne’s works we should see not only a new pictorial construction but also – too often forgotten – a new moral suggestion of space' (quoted in A. Danchev, Cézanne, A Life, New York, 2012, pp. 232-233).
Samuel Courtauld was prescient in recognizing the central importance that Cézanne held for the development of modernism in the early twentieth century, and the collection of twelve Cézanne paintings that he amassed in the 1920s and 1930s includes some of the most powerful and iconic images of the artist’s entire oeuvre – L’Estaque, the Lac d’Annecy, Mont Sainte-Victoire, the joueurs de cartes. Courtauld donated eight of these paintings to his namesake Institute of Art, which remains today one of Europe’s most pre-eminent art museums and a powerhouse of intellectual activity. Courtauld sold two portraits of Cézanne’s wife during his lifetime, one of which is now housed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the other in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Vue sur L’Estaque et Le Château d’If has the extraordinary distinction of being one of only two paintings by Cézanne that Courtauld retained for his personal collection and bequeathed by succession upon his death.
Among the great patrons and collectors of the twentieth century, Courtauld stands out for his unequivocal commitment to the public domain. In addition to fostering the study of art in the English educational system, he made a gift to the state of £50,000 in January 1923 for the purchase of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, which were then scarcely represented in the English national collections. The works that were acquired over the next three years, with Courtauld himself playing a central role in their selection, were installed in June 1926 in the newly opened galleries for modern foreign art behind the Tate and are today the core of the National Gallery’s holdings in this area. 'It is a matter for the greatest satisfaction that we should possess two first-rate Cézannes and perhaps the finest Seurat in the world,' Roger Fry wrote when the acquisitions from the Courtauld gift were unveiled. 'And these after all are the two greatest pioneers of modern art' (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1994, p. 16). 'For my part,' Courtauld declared, 'I am pleased to help in getting official recognition for Cézanne in England' (quoted in ibid., p. 21). Vue sur L’Estaque et Le Château d’If has the extraordinary distinction of being one of only two paintings by Cézanne that Courtauld retained for his personal collection. It passed by succession upon his death.
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF SAMUEL COURTAULD
Paul Cezanne , late 19th Century, Paintings, oil, France, landscape
Brussels, La Libre Esthétique, Peintres impressionnistes, February - March 1904, no. 14, p. 26 (titled 'La Baie de Marseille').
Berlin, Paul Cassirer, Collectiv-Ausstellung, VIII. Jahrgang, VI. Ausstellung, February - March 1906, no. 10 (titled 'Dorf am Meeresufer').
Posen, Kaiser Friedrich-Museum, Französische Impressionisten, 1906.
Vienna, Galerie Miethke, Paul Gauguin and Others, March - April 1907, no. 92 (titled 'Dorf am Meer').
Prague, Pavillon Mánes, Tableaux modernes, October - November 1907, possibly no. 56.
Berlin, Paul Cassirer, XII. Jahrgang, III. Ausstellung, November - December 1909, no. 2 (titled 'L'Estaque').
Berlin, Paul Cassirer, XIII. Jahrgang, VIII. Ausstellung, March 1911, no. 4 (titled 'Landschaft, L'Estaque').
Brussels, La Libre Esthétique, Interpretations du Midi, March - April 1913, no. 50, p. 23.
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paul Cézanne, January 1914, no. 3 (titled 'L'Estaque').
New York, Montross Gallery, Cézanne, January 1916, no. 3 (illustrated; titled 'L'Estaque').
Kristiania (Oslo), Kunstnerforbundet, Den franske Utstilling, January - February 1918, no. 8 (titled 'L'Estaque').
London, Leicester Galleries, Paintings and Drawings by Paul Cézanne, June - July 1925, no. 7 (illustrated p. 15; titled 'L'Estaque').
Berlin, Galerie Matthiesen, Einzelwerke französischer Impressionisten und alte Meister, May 1927, no. 1, p. 5 (illustrated p. 4).
London, Wildenstein Galleries, Homage to Paul Cézanne, July 1939, no. 32 (dated 'about 1885').
London, Tate Gallery, Samuel Courtauld Memorial Exhibition, May - June 1948, no. 8, p. 7.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Landscape in French Art 1550 - 1900, December 1949 - March 1950, no. 308.
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, Paintings by Cézanne, August - September 1954, no. 34 (dated 'circa 1885').
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, Impressionnistes de la Collection Courtauld de Londres, October 1955, no. 6 (illustrated pl. 38).
London, Wildenstein Galleries, The French Impressionists and Some of Their Contemporaries, April - May 1963, no. 24 (illustrated).
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Cézanne and Poussin: The Classical Vision in Landscape, August - October 1990, no. 35, p. 133 (illustrated p. 132; titled 'L'Estaque').
London, Courtauld Gallery, Impressionism for England, Samuel Courtauld as Patron and Collector, June - September 1994, no. 7, p. 70 (illustrated p. 71).
Aix-en-Provence, Musée Granet, Cézanne in Provence, June - September 2006, no. 51, p. 319 (illustrated p. 147).
Philadelphia, Museum of Art, Cézanne and Beyond, February - May 2009, p. 532 (illustrated pl. 88, p. 274).
On loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1985-2014.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
28 3/4 x 23 1/2 in. (73 x 59.7 cm.)
A. Vollard, Stockbook A, 1899-1904, no. 3720 (titled 'Marine à Lestac').
'Von Ausstellungen und Sammlungen', in Die Kunst, 1 July 1906, p. 454.
C. Caffin, How to Study the Modern Painters, London & New York, 1914 (illustrated p. 200).
R. Cortissoz, 'Paul Cézanne and the Cult for His Paintings', in New York Tribune, 9 January 1916.
F.J. Mather, Jr., Nation, vol. 102, 13 January 1916, p. 58.
W. Wright, International Studio, vol. 57, no. 228, February 1916, p. cxxxi (illustrated).
'Courier de la presse', in Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, 15 January 1921, p. 52 (illustrated).
J. Gasquet, Cézanne, Paris, 1921 (illustrated opposite p. 38; titled 'L'Estaque').
C. Glaser, Paul Cézanne, Leipzig, 1922 (illustrated pl. 8; titled 'L'Estaque' and dated 'circa 1883').
T.L. Klingsor, Cézanne, Paris, 1923 (illustrated pl. 5; titled 'L'Estaque').
G. Rivière, Le Maître Paul Cézanne, Paris, 1923, p. 207.
R. Cortissoz, Personalities in Art, New York, 1925, p. 298.
I. Arishima, Cézanne, Tokyo, 1926 (illustrated pl. 11).
M. Maus, Trente Anne´es de lutte pour l'art, 1884-1914, Brussels, 1926, pp. 452-453 (illustrated).
A. Salmon, 'Cézanne et son "Grappin"', in L'Art Vivant, Paris, 1926, p. 489 (illustrated).
A. Bertram, Paul Cézanne, London, 1929 (illustrated pl. 16).
J. Gasquet, 'Aus dem Leben Cézannes', in Kunst und Künstler, vol. 27, Berlin, 1929, p. 281 (illustrated).
J. Gasquet, Cézanne, Berlin, 1930 (illustrated opposite p. 32).
N. Iavorskaia, Cézanne, Moscow, 1935 (illustrated pl. 17).
G. Mack, Paul Cézanne, New York, 1935 (illustrated fig. 24).
M. Raynal, Cézanne, Paris, 1936 (illustrated pl. LV).
L. Venturi, Cézanne: Son art - son oeuvre, vol. I, Paris, 1936, no. 406, p. 153 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 113; titled 'La mer à L'Estaque' and dated '1882-1885').
F. Novotny, Cézanne und das Ende der wissenschaftlichen Perspektive, Vienna, 1938, no. 107, p. 205 (dated 'circa 1883').
R. Cogniat, Cézanne, Paris, 1939 (illustrated pl. 63).
J. Rewald, Cézanne, Sa vie, son œuvre, son amitié pour Zola, Paris, 1939, p. 447 (illustrated fig. 49; dated 'circa 1882').
Studio, July 1951, p. 21 (illustrated).
D. Cooper, The Courtauld Collection, London, 1954, no. 9, p. 86 (illustrated pl. 5).
F. Mathey, Les Impressionnistes et leur temps, Paris, 1959, p. 125 (illustrated; titled 'Vue de L'Estaque').
P. Feist, Paul Cézanne, Leipzig, 1963, pp. 16 & 28 (illustrated pl. 31).
P. Pool, Impressionism, New York, 1967, pp. 188 & 278 (illustrated pl. 146; titled 'L'Estaque' and dated 'circa 1885').
C. Ikegami, Cézanne, Tokyo, 1969 (illustrated pl. 24).
A. Gatto & S. Orienti, L'opera completa di Cézanne, Milan, 1970, no. 417, p. 105 (illustrated; titled 'Veduta fra alberi' and dated '1882-1885').
D.E. Gordon, Modern Art Exhibitions, 1900-1916, vol. II, Munich, 1974, p. 883 (illustrated vol. I, p. 321; titled 'L'Estaque').
M. Brion, Cézanne, Garden City, NY, 1974, p. 77.
G. Plazy, Cézanne, Fribourg, 1981, p. 44.
J.E. Muller, Cézanne, Paris, 1982 (illustrated pl. 18).
J. Rewald, Cézanne: A Biography, New York, 1986, p. 144 (illustrated).
R. Kendall, ed., Cézanne by Himself, London, 1988, p. 314 (illustrated p. 132; titled 'View through Trees, l'Estaque' and dated 'circa 1882-1885').
J.J. Lévêque, La vie et l'oeuvre de Paul Cézanne, Paris, 1988, p. 181 (illustrated).
H. Duchting, Paul Cézanne: Natur wird Kunst, Cologne, 1989 (illustrated on the cover).
J. Rewald, Cézanne and America, Dealers, Collectors, Artists and Critics, 1891-1921, London & Princeton, 1989, p. 290 (illustrated fig. 147, p. 293).
C. Naubert-Riser, Cézanne, Paris, 1991, p. 83.
S. Patin, Cézanne, Paris, 1995, p. 59.
E. Schmitt, Cézanne in Provence, Munich & New York, 1995, p. 116 (illustrated p. 71 & on the cover).
J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New York & London, 1996, no. 531, pp. 357-359 (illustrated vol. II, p. 173).
T. Natter, Die Galerie Miethke: Eine Kunsthandlung im Zentrum der Moderne, Vienna, 2003, p. 156 (illustrated).
P. Machotka, Cézanne: The Eye and the Mind, Marseille, 2008, p. 24, vol. 2 (illustrated fig. 180, vol. 1).
J. Golding, 'Cézanne, Braque and Pictorial Space', in exh. cat., Cézanne and Beyond, New Haven, 2009, pp. 256-277 (illustrated pl. 88, p. 274).
W. Feilchenfeldt, J. Warman & D. Nash, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, an online catalogue raisonné, no. 193 (accessed 2014).
Ambroise Vollard, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist.
Baron Denys Cochin, Paris, by 1904.
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired on 12 May 1905.
Paul Cassirer, Berlin, by whom acquired on 21 September 1905.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, and Jos Hessel, Paris, by whom acquired on 2 April 1909.
Jos Hessel, Paris, by whom acquired on 12 July 1910.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, by whom acquired on 12 October 1912.
Walther Halvorsen, Oslo, by whom acquired on 21 April 1915.
Erich Goeritz, Luxembourg, by 1936.
Galerie Thannhauser, Lucerne, by whom acquired from the above on 9 July 1936.
Wildenstein Galleries, Paris & London, by whom acquired from the above on 11 July 1936.
Samuel Courtauld, London, by whom acquired from the above in November 1936, and thence by succession to the current owners.