Avenue of Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffan
Watercolour and pencil on ribbed hand-made paper
Inv. No. 16334
31 × 47 cm
The »Jas de Bouffan«, an eighteenth-century country estate on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, had belonged to the artist’s family since 1859. Cézanne enjoyed staying in this part of France and worked in a studio he had set up there, as well as, later on, out of doors in the area around Mont Sainte-Victoire. From the mid 1860s onwards he portrayed the house and garden in his paintings, drawings and watercolours. The avenue of chestnut trees provided him with an unusual, intrinsically symmetrical motif. In his composition, he takes his cue from the formal arrangement of the two parallel lines of trees, using the special characteristics of the watercolour medium to lend the view so familiar to him an expression both classical and contemporary. This work combines the intense perception of nature with the ability to subject that perception to the formal pictorial laws of area and space, line and colour.
From a slightly elevated vantage point, above a fountain cut off on one side by the edge of the picture, Cézanne describes the two rows of tree-trunks, which – rendered in a stone-like grey – have an almost architectural quality. Following the direction of the avenue, the viewer’s gaze is taken beyond its end, which is marked by the shallow basin of a fountain. Since the viewpoint is slightly off centre, the tall trunks on the left form a closed rank, while the row opposite has spaces through which the sunlight falls. Above this balanced, geometrical arrangement of vertical and horizontal forces, the artist has spread out the crowns of the trees using different hues of watercolour and thus defining the actual pictorial space.
Cézanne cuts off the tops of the mighty trees, thus giving greater expressiveness to the canopy of leaves. He represents the foliage in the upper half of his drawing by placing abbreviated, transparent flecks of colour side by side in a rich spectrum of shades of blue and green, which become progressively darker towards the upper edge. This rhythmical application of the paint in such a way that the paper shines through everywhere creates a diagonal orientation that suggests the volume of the chestnut trees and assays a valid description of their essential nature.
The composition’s rigorous execution serves to integrate all plastic values into a single coherent system that is three-dimensional and two-dimensional at once. This is an approach reminiscent of Poussin, whose art Cézanne knew and admired. The artistic concept Cézanne realized in the Avenue of Chestnut Trees is an example of what he meant when he said: »Poussin …, but re-worked entirely after nature, that’s how I would define classical«.