Paul Cézanne, The Sea near L‘Estaque, circa 1883Back

Paul Cézanne
The Sea near L‘Estaque
circa 1883

Oil on canvas
37 x 46,5 cm
Museum Langmatt, Baden
Inv.-no. 120


A wide blue sea rises upward with surprising steepness, like a massive wall, leaving very little sky. The enormous expanse of water meanders between cool and warm blue tones and separates into a large number of lively brushstrokes. The roofs and walls of the houses are reproduced as striking surfaces, with no details delineated. This striking abstraction lends them a cubic property. It was not until twenty-five years later that Cubism was to adopt the concept of deconstructing objects into flat facets, once more impressively emphasizing the visionary power of Cézanne. Loosely overlying the slope, embedded between gardens, bushes, and isolated trees, the surfaces engage in a tense dialogue with each other. If we follow the movements of our eyes, they spring from roof to roof, from wall to wall. They glide along the edges, become lost in the fresh green of nature, and feel out rhythmic concentrations of color that suggest garden walls, paths, or small cultivation areas, without defining these more precisely. Remarkable complementary color contrasts between the green and red color values reinforce the energetic movement behavior of this loose development, supported by striking light-and-dark contrasts.

Within the events of the picture, the large and conspicuously exposed chimney possesses an unmistakable importance. This chimney also appears in other comparable views of L’Estaque painted by Cézanne, indicating the industrialization of the town. Cézanne had attentively followed the changes to the landscape, as he had spent considerable time in L’Estaque over several decades. The artist’s handling of this symbol of industrialization is interesting. Like Monet, he refrains from making a value judgment. Cézanne sees the chimney as simply a component part of his depiction. Its striking form, which contrasts so sharply with the many small houses, must have struck the public of the time as eye-catching and rather provocative. From today’s perspective, these brick chimney appear almost romantic, witnesses to a phase of industrialization that has already vanished. We are used to seeing the silhouettes of very different structures in our landscapes, especially when we think of wind power or atomic power.

At the time, L’Estaque was a small fishing village just outside Marseille. Ever since the days of his youth, Cézanne had spent time here regularly because of a holiday home belonging to his mother. Some years later, this little town was to make art history: after Georges Braque saw the great memorial exhibition in honor of Paul Cézanne in Paris in 1907, he followed in the artist’s footsteps (1908) and went to L’Estaque, where he painted his pioneering picture Houses in L’Estaque (1908, Kunstmuseum Bern), which led to the Cubist style receiving its name: when the picture was exhibited a short time later at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s premises in Paris—it had previously been rejected by the Salon d’Automne —the critic Louis Vauxcelles made several derogatory references to “cubes.” Braque concentrated on dissolving the houses into powerful blocks. Unlike Cézanne, he did not depict the sea.

Markus Stegmann in: «Herzkammer», Museum Langmatt 2020