Landscape. Road with trees in rocky mountains, 1870–71

As a young man in Paris, the Provençal Paul Cézanne was an outsider. Most people considered the loner artistically inept. To avoid being called up for military service, the thirty-one-year old moved to the small Southern French town of L’Estaque in 1870, right at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war. One of the paintings he executed there out-of-doors is this view of a lonely mountain path. With a thick brushstroke, Cézanne not only approached the end of his “dark phase” but also pushed towards what was gradually to crystallize as the quintessence of his painting – art as an autonomous worldview.

The shadows falling across the path are very dark. The almost unreal degree of contrast they create is decisive for the intense vision. Yet the most peculiar element of all is the blackish-green area at the top, behind the trees. How easy it would have been to put a bright, friendly sky there! Such a sky, however, would not only have destroyed the painting’s chromatic coherence, but also its ambiguity. The steep black wall does not invite the wanderer to continue. On the contrary: Cézanne painted a hermetic landscape in which one must ask oneself if it might not be better to turn back. There is a threatening quality in the air.

Photo: Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK

Oil on canvas
53.7 × 65 cm
Inv. No. SG 458

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