Paul Cézanne painted Avenue at Chantilly in oil on canvas in 1888. This painting is part of the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo.
What is depicted in the Avenue at Chantilly?
The painting shows the road at Chantilly, surrounded by massive trees with a centrally positioned segment of architecture in the distance.
Avenue at Chantilly – Analysis
In interpreting this Mediterranean landscape, Cézanne experimented with a new form of landscape that was reflected in the rejection of the principle of believability and idealization of scenes. By excluding illusionism, Cézanne opened up space for a new relationship to the motif through the exploration of the dynamics of vision in relation to proximity or distance, breaking contours and insisting on the flatness of the image.
Cézanne excludes the presence of the figure without exception. Regardless of the frequent displays of architecture, any human activity or even hinted action does not exist. Authentically rural, primordial Provence is represented in Cézanne’s landscapes.
Meyer Schapiro analyzed this composition in Cézanne: A modest, unlikely theme: a narrow, closed path flanked by trees, at the end of which we glimpse irregular segments of buildings, the whole seen in the most obvious way–the road in the middle, the opening, too. We have observed before the significance of the barrier for Cézanne’s vision of landscape. He concentrates, looks attentively, but does not cross. It is an object isolated at random for the eye; the symmetry does not belong to the scene as a whole, but to the conditions of seeing; the frame is like the eye itself, the path is the axis of vision; what is sighted on this path and within this frame is incomplete–it is not the object as we know it to be; yet Cézanne disengages an order from it, establishes connections between the parts and finally unites it to his frame. He isolates a pair of windows, joined by a roof line; together, they correspond to the barrier in the road. The sloping gables are like the inclined trees which frame the narrow view. The frame of vegetation forms an arched structure with supporting posts of interestingly contrasted shape, and the distant, enclosed segment of buildings is a shuffled quasi-Cubist succession of overlapping planes of warm and cold color, which we discover again in a loose play in the varied masses of the trees.
Cézanne’s object is a piece of the visual world that combines in a striking way equivalents of the subjective and objective in his own seeing. The object of vision is closed off, the space near the spectator is open to him; the path of the eye is very marked, the path of the body is obstructed or absent. But the object and the spectator’s space cohere in a rigorous way, through both the shapes and the colors. The object is accepted as directly given; it is in the center of the eye’s field. In this picture it is perhaps reduced in size. If you sight the buildings through one eye, the depth is very marked…What counts in the end is Cézanne’s color sense and the life of his brush–vigorous, expressive, sure, and always in motion. We enjoy a beautiful play of greens beside the yellows, violets, and blues. The spots of green seem shapeless, in contrast to the geometrical lines of the buildings; yet they possess their own free harmony of form.
Theodore Rousseau writes in Paul Cézanne about the relationship between architecture and landscape in this painting: Views of buildings, seen in the distance through an alley of trees, have been treated by landscape painters of all periods. Cezanne’s interpretation of this subject is full of poetry. We feel the sunlight on the pink courtyard before the houses, the rich, waving foliage, and the cool shadows in the alley. And yet, we find that the canvas has an architectural structure in surface and in depth quite different from the work of other painters. The trees form a solid mass on either side of the alley; and although we have an impression of distance, the perspective lines of the alley have been treated so as to bring the buildings forward and to prevent completely any feeling of real distance, of a hole in the middle of the canvas. We are made conscious of the entire scene at one time. We are not invited in to wander about, as we would be in a landscape by Hobbema, for instance. The same effect is created by the color. The greens and blues in the trees are close in intensity to the colors of the houses, which minimizes the effect of distance and produces an overall pattern, somewhat like a tapestry, on the surface of the canvas.
In the same year, Paul Cézanne painted the composition Avenue at Chantilly, which is in The National Gallery in London.