Four Stages in Cézanne's Career: This post is part of a series of four providing an overview of the development and change in Paul Cézanne’s approach to his landscapes from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Each part is concerned with a time period of approximately 10–12 years. Scholars have recognized each section and have named them for convenience of recognition.
Where? Städel Museum in Frankfurt
Medium and size: Oil on canvas, 65.0 cm by 53.7 cm.
What do you see? This is one of Cézanne’s early landscapes from his late “couillarde” period. He crudely described his own style at the time as ‘ballsy.’ Between 1862 and 1872, he painted in very dark colors, the paint applied thickly with a palette knife or thick impasto brush strokes. The strokes are visible and create texture that has a visceral feel to it. By zooming in on the painting, the navy-blue to almost black background is visible. It helps to create the sinister, unseen, section of the road. Light sources come from the yellow brush strokes slashed on the tips of the tree branches and white paint was applied on the road and rocks on top of the undercoating of darker navy/gray.
The layering and alternating light/dark colors produce the perception of depth. Waves of brush strokes create the rocks on the right. The strokes appear to have been painted quickly, dragging and dropping bits of color as the brush flew across the canvas, almost in rage or frenzy. The brush strokes and the composition of the trees and rocks draw the eye upwards to the darkness.
It is a powerful piece of art that pulls the viewer in, an invitation to experience either the lightness of the sunrise/sunset or to feel the impending darkness and with it a sense of foreboding. The rocks and trees loom over the road, a dare to walk or ride along it. The story choice is the viewer’s but with Cézanne’s paintings, there is always a demand for a reaction.