Cézanne spent several months over the summer of 1888 working in and around Chantilly, some 24 miles north of Paris. This is one of three similar oil paintings of the park surrounding the chateau that he produced during his stay. The symmetry and spatial depth of this view may have appealed to him more than its historic associations, as he has focused on the avenue or path running through the Chantilly forest rather than on the town’s famous castle, seen in the distance.
Cézanne created an impression of depth by building up the landscape as a mosaic of carefully organised patches of colour. Warm ochre and reds contrast with cooler blues, greens and greys, and variations of tone suggest the play of light on foliage. Alternating bands of light and shade lead us in, and darker touches of blue and green define the structure of the trees and fences.
According to his son, Cézanne spent several months over the summer of 1888 working in and around Chantilly, some 24 miles north of Paris. This is one of three similar oil paintings of the park surrounding the chateau at Chantilly that Cézanne produced during his stay there. The two other paintings are in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio and the Berggruen Collection, Geneva. There is also a watercolour of the same view, most likely a page from a sketchbook, in a private collection.
In all these paintings, Cézanne focused on the avenue or path running through the Chantilly forest rather than on the town’s famous castle, which, although framed by an arch of trees, remains largely undefined. This vista, with its innate geometrical format, may in part have appealed to Cézanne not for its historic associations, but because it reminded him of the avenues of chestnut trees at the family home, the Jas de Bouffan, in Aix-en-Provence.
Both Chantilly and the Jas de Bouffan offered Cézanne views with clearly defined structures that he sought to describe in paint. The problem of how to represent three-dimensional space and volume on a flat surface was one that engaged Cézanne for much of his career. He has addressed this challenge here by choosing an overtly symmetrical view of a landscape that itself had already been designed – with an avenue cutting through the trees. Human presence is further represented by the wooden fences that cross the avenue in the middle distance and by the single post in the centre foreground (standing in for both the artist and the viewer). Cézanne created an effect of depth by building up the landscape as a mosaic of carefully organised coloured patches whose relation to each other is affected by the size and direction of the brushstrokes and by Cézanne’s control of colour and tone.
Colour, for Cézanne, was the basis of perception, and by the 1880s both his use of it and his oil painting technique had been shaped by his experience with watercolour. The method Cézanne developed in his watercolours is evident in the looser, more open technique of his oil paintings from this time and in his use of overlapping planes of colour. For this picture Cézanne has lightly sketched in the composition with pencil lines, which were then overlain with areas of colour. Some of these areas were reworked, particularly near the centre of the picture, but elsewhere he has left the creamy beige primer visible so that it forms part of the overall colour scheme. Warm colours (for example, the terracotta red of the roof near the picture’s centre and the ochre of the avenue) contrast with cooler blues, greens and greys, and variations of tone suggest the play of light on foliage. Alternating bands of light and shade create an effect of depth, and darker touches of blue and green define the structure of the trees and fences.
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