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Montagne Sainte-Victoire (Courtauld)

Artist: Paul Cezanne
Created: c. 1882
Dimensions (cm): 92.3 x 66.8
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Courtauld Institute of Art, London, England



Mont Sainte-Victoire was a familiar subject for Cézanne; it rises to the east of Aix-en-Provence, his birthplace. From many points of view, its broken silhouette dominates the town. Cézanne painted two series of canvases of the peak: one in the 1880s, and another between 1901 and 1906. These views are among the most celebrated in art history.

This particular painting was finished by Cézanne in 1887, and shown at the exhibition of the Société des Amis des Arts at Aix in 1895. After it received genuine and enthusiastic praise from the young poet Joachim Gasquet, the son of a childhood friend of Cézanne's, he signed the painting (something he rarely did), and gave it to Gasquet as a gift.

What is most notable about this image is the pattern of the foliage, which follows the silhouette of the peak quite precisely. In conjunction with the vertical trunk on the left, the trees form a neat frame of the peak, within the frame of the painting itself. Notable too is that background and foreground seem to overlap and intermingle in several places. The pine trees, with the strident brushwork and vivid colors, seem to be in a tug-of-war for prominence in the painting with the majestic and awesome mountain behind them.

Cézanne's continuing simplification of painting technique is evident here. His system of parallel brushwork remains in most of the foliage, but elsewhere the paint is applied flatter, with softer nuances of contour. He also leaves entire portions of the cream priming bare, though, in the end, it contributes to the overall tonality and luminosity of the picture, complementing the orange-yellow of the foreground and the soft, atmospheric blues and pinks of the mountain.

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