Paul Cézanne, Landscape near Pontoise, circa 1875Back

Paul Cézanne
Landscape near Pontoise
circa 1875

Oil on canvas
60,3 × 73,2 cm
Museum Langmatt, Baden
Inv.-no. 116


Between trunks, trees, and bushes, an outline emerges from the light wood of a building of indeterminate function and location. The picture’s title indicates that it is near Pontoise, a small town not far from Paris where Cézanne liked to go to paint during this period. Together with the vertical axes provided by diverse trees, the horizontal lines of the building and its surfaces provide the picture with its tectonic structure. This is in striking contrast to the wildly flickering, extremely varied shades of green, which indicate multifarious foliage. Anyone who steps closer and seeks to connect this fluttering cloud to specific plants — with the eye of realism, and ascribing to color its traditional function in describing concrete subjects — is doomed to failure. Even in his early works, Cézanne broke painting conventions. This was surely one of the reasons why other artists endeavored to keep him out of the first legendary Impressionist salon that took place in 1874 (immediately after this picture was painted) in the gallery of the photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) in Paris, on the initiative of Claude Monet. It was Camille Pissarro who represented his case, enabling him to take part. Incidentally, Impressionism owes its name to this exhibition: the critic Louis Leroy first used the term “Impressionists” when speaking in a highly derogatory vein of Claude Monet’s famous picture Impression soleil levant (1872).

But what interested Cézanne, if not the “correct,” clear, and plainly recognizable representation of nature? From today’s perspective, it is not easy to take ourselves back to this time, and, above all, to its seeing habits. We are far too used to the subtle shimmer and romantic soft focus of the Impressionists, now long considered aesthetically valuable. However, it must have been shocking to their contemporaries to be confronted with pictures like these, which showed a world in fragments. Cézanne, however, was not concerned with this negative perspective, indicative of extension, irritation, and disquiet. He had discovered that freeing the colors from their traditional function in precisely describing a subject could bring a hitherto unsuspected freedom to pictures. Suddenly, the way was clear for a whole new concept in painting. While green still signified foliage and plants, it was permitted to take on values and forms far beyond its conventional role. This was a breaking of boundaries. In this picture, we see Cézanne already formulating the immeasurable potential of color; at the time, he cannot have realized that in doing so he was opening the door to modernist trends, such as early twentieth-century Cubism. When one remembers that the art dealer Ambroise Vollard presented Cézanne’s first solo exhibition in Paris in 1895 — twenty years after this picture was painted — then the discrepancy between inventive power and contemporary perception becomes still more astonishing.

Markus Stegmann in: «Herzkammer», Museum Langmatt 2020