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9. The Painting in the Context of Cézanne’s Life

The subject of our painting is the seaside village of L’Estaque, across the Gulf of Lion from the city of Marseille, about 8 km distant.  This town, originally a fishing village, was about 18 km from Cézanne’s family home in Aix.  In 1848 it was connected by train with Marseille, and in the 1860’s a tile and brick factory was constructed there, which included one or two tall smokestacks.[1]  In 1864 Cézanne’s mother rented a small house near the upper town as a summer retreat, and it was then, at the age of fifteen, that he first visited.  He returned when he was 21, hiding there to avoid being conscripted into the army to fight in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).  In the following years, he also frequently stayed there with his mistress, Hortense Fiquet, with whom he had a son Paul in 1872. By living and working in L’Estaque rather than Aix, Cézanne could keep knowledge of his mistress and son from his imperious banker father, living in Aix, whom he feared would stop supporting him if he discovered his secret.

Grown to love L’Estaque, Cézanne, between 1870 and 1885, divided his time, residence, and work between there, Paris (and suburbs) and Aix, and during this period he painted some 60 views of the town and the sea.[2]  He was there almost full-time from April to August of 1876, from March 1878 to February 1879, from January to May 1882, and from November 1884 to Feb. 1885.[3]

In the 1860’s, when Cézanne was in his twenties and living in Paris, he was already regarded as an eccentric and an aggressive non-conformist.  Having failed to qualify for the École des Beaux Arts, he attended the Académie Suisse and annually submitted paintings for inclusion in the Paris Salon.  Continually rejected by the Salon jurors, he joined the circle of the “Refusés” and participated in the First Exhibition of the Impressionists in 1874, to which he submitted three works, one of a salacious nature which ignited a controversy, while the other two were conventional landscapes painted while working side by side with his friend Camille Pissarro, whose palette and brush technique he adopted in the early 1870’s.[4]

Since the 1874 exhibition proved a financial failure both for the investors and the struggling artist-participants, Cézanne chose not to participate in the Second Impressionist exhibition of 1876, deciding instead to remain in preferred isolation at L’Estaque to continue his painting, with which he was obsessed.  Meanwhile, his friend, the artist Gustave Caillebotte, who had just inherited his father’s fortune, stepped up and underwrote the 1876 exhibition, which included 252 works by 20 artists. This show again proved a financial failure and attracted even fewer visitors than the First Exhibition.

When a Third Impressionist Exhibition was planned for April 1877, Cézanne applied for inclusion, but, as he heard, his participation was “hotly contested” by the acerbic Degas and some of his circle, who initially disapproved of his work, while it was successfully defended by Monet and Caillebotte.[5] As the chief financier of the exhibition, Caillebotte had his way and again became the organizer and curator of this exhibition, which featured over 230 works by 15 artists.  Cézanne contributed 17.[6]  For this show, Caillebotte insisted that all the contributing artists enter finished works and sign them in red at the lower right. Cézanne almost never signed his pictures (since most of them he considered unfinished),[7] but as a requirement for entry into the exhibition, he signed those he entered.

One of Cézanne’s contributions to the 1877 exhibition was a view of L’Estaque with the sea in the background (FWN 96).  This is a work he had painted the previous year for Victor Chocquet, who was one of his very rare contemporary collectors and advocates, who lent it to the exhibition.[8]  At about the same time, he must have painted the closely related picture FWN 119 (with the diagonal terrain going in the opposite direction), which he shortly afterward presented to Caillebotte.  It, too, pictured L’Estaque and the sea with a view to Marseille in the distance, and it, too, is signed in red at the lower right.  We can assume that Cézanne painted it between 1878 and 1879 – during or shortly after the Third Impressionist Exhibition.  Because our painting is a near duplicate of that picture, we may assume that it was painted at the same time.

After 1877, Cézanne never publicly exhibited his works with the Impressionists again.  For much of this time he painted privately, dividing his time between Provence and Paris, and selling or giving his paintings only to his artist friends or to his very few collector-admirers.  He was struggling.[9]  In 1882 Monet made a trip to visit him at Aix and apparently bought paintings from him, and it was through Pissarro that Cézanne met Paul Gauguin, who between 1877 and 1883 acquired at least 6 paintings by him.  In Paris the only venue where the artist’s work could ever have been seen by anyone outside his small circle during the 1880’s was the shop of the artists’ supply dealer Julien “Pere” Tanguy, who periodically exhibited Cézanne’s paintings, a few of which he took in payment for artist’s supplies.[10] But the likelihood that our painting was seen there and bought by an American are extremely remote, all the more so since Cézanne was then almost completely unknown.

In 1893, when Ambroise Vollard, an art dealer’s assistant, decided to go into business for himself, he decided, at the urging of some of Cézanne’s artist friends (Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, and Armand Guillaumin) to mount a first, single-artist exhibition of Cézanne’s work.  This event was to run from November-December 1895 and to open at his new gallery in Paris.[11]  For this show, the dealer sought out the reclusive artist himself, through his son Paul, and bought a large number of canvases directly from him.[12]  As Vollard wrote in his autobiography, most or all of these canvases came without stretchers and frames, requiring him to mount and frame them all himself.

In all, the show consisted of 150 paintings, which were exhibited on a rotating basis (since less than half could be shown at any one time).  Since Vollard published no catalogue of this show, and since no record of his 1895 inventory exists, less than half of the paintings included in this exhibition have been identified by the editors of FWN, leaving the remainder unknown – a fact which makes it very likely that our painting was among these and that it was framed for this exhibition.[13]

The 1895 show seems to have continued well into 1896, and Vollard went on selling his Cézannes to new collectors through 1897.  Then in 1897, he traveled by train to Aix and bought more pictures from Cézanne, as the artist was emptying out his storeroom there.[14] The following year Vollard mounted his second Cézanne exhibition.  For this show, unlike the first, he did publish a catalogue, but as stated by the editors of FWN, the titles given the paintings in the checklist are so brief or vague that they cannot be matched with known paintings.[15]  It is intriguing, though, that cat. nos. 51 and 53 were both labeled “Marine.” Since Cézanne’s only “marine” paintings were views of L’Estaque, it is quite possible that one of these numbers was our painting.  There would naturally have been keen interest in it, as suggested above, for its duplicate in the Caillebotte bequest had just gone on view at the Musée de Luxembourg in January 1897, when it was formally accessioned.[16]


[1]Becks-Malorney (Köln: 2020), pp. 37-39, 93-95; Borchardt-Hume, Groom, Haskell and Sidlina, Cézanne (Chicago: 2022), p. 19; and Denis Coutagne in >cezanne en ses lieux > lieux Provençaux > Marseille-L’Estaque.
[2] For a complete album of the L’Estaque pictures, see https://www.cezannecatalogue >Search>Titles>L’Estaque.
[3] K. Kremnitzer, “Mapping Cézanne,” in Cézanne (Chicago Art Institute: 2022), pp. 213-223.
[4] Becks-Malorney, Paul Cézanne 1839-1906: Pioneer of Modernism (Köln: 2020), pp. 21-23.
[5] Groom, in Cézanne (Chicago Art Institute 2022), p. 26.
[6]  Part 2:  The Artists.
[7] Rewald 1989, p. 211; Gloria Groom in Cézanne (Chicago Art Institute 2022), p. 24.
[8]; Becks-Malorny (Köln: 2020), p. 39:  On 2 July 1876 Cézanne wrote to Pissarro about l’Estaque: “I have not been in Aix for the past month. I have begun two small pictures of the sea for Mr. Choquet, who has spoken to me about them. It is like a playing-card.  Red roofs on the blue sea. If the weather gets better, I could probably finish them both. As things are at the moment, I have not done anything yet. But there are compositions which would take three to four months’ work, which could probably be done, because the vegetation does not change….”
[9] In the late 1870’s and early 80’s Cézanne weathered a family crisis. When his father accidentally discovered the existence of his mistress and illegitimate son (in 1876), he cut Paul off financially.  In 1885 the two reconciled, but his father insisted that he and Hortense marry to legitimize their son (his grandson), which they did in April 1886.  The following October, Cézanne’s father died, leaving the large family home in Aix to him, his mother and two sisters, along with a substantial inheritance, which now gave the artist complete freedom to pursue his art – and Hortense and Paul, Jr. the freedom to live with him or elsewhere, in their own apartments, as they chose.  See F. Chedeville and R. Hurta .
[10];  “In 1873… Cezanne met the Parisian paint dealer, Julien Tanguy… who immediately struck up a strong rapport with him. ‘Pere Tanguy’ had strong opinions about art and supported (many painters) by accepting (their) paintings in exchange for supplies of canvas and paint. Meeting Tanguy was a great stroke of luck for Cézanne: Tanguy acquired many of his paintings and at least freed him from the worry of obtaining materials. Nonetheless, Cézanne’s financial situation was worse than it had ever been. He had a small bachelor’s allowance to feed a family of three, and he was far from achieving public recognition or selling any paintings.”  (Becks-Malorny [Köln 2020], p. 28).
[11] Ambroise Vollard, Recollections of a Picture Dealer (Boston: 1934), pp. 60 ff
[12] Vollard, Recollections…p. 60. and
[14] Vollard, Recollections…p. 60.  See also Natalia Sidlina in Cézanne (Chicago Art Institute 2022), p. 63: “The year 1899 was also a watershed in Cézanne’s life, marked by irreversible change: following his mother’s death in 1897, the family house was sold. Later that year he sold the contents of his Paris studio to Vollard and, as a capstone to this period of change, set a bonfire in which he destroyed many of its early works held at (his house, called) the Jas de Bouffan.”
[16] (The Caillebotte bequest to the Luxembourg). In 1894, when Caillebotte died, he willed this painting with the rest of his “modern art” collection to the French State. According to Vollard, Léonce Bénédite, the director of the Musée de Luxembourg, initially refused to accept seventeen of these paintings, including the seascape (Vollard, Recollections …., pp. 21-23), but it finally entered the Museum formally in 1897. As early as 1915, during World War I, it was considered important enough to be sent to the U.S. for inclusion in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, after which, through 1917, it was sent to exhibitions in Pittsburgh and Chicago.