Paul Cézanne painted Millstone in the Park of the Château Noir in oil on canvas between 1892 and 1894. This painting is part of the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia.
What is depicted in the Millstone in the Park of the Château Noir (Woods with Millstone)?
The painting shows the rocky landscape of the park near Château Noir with the millstone in the lower left part of the composition.
Millstone in the Park of the Château Noir (Woods with Millstone) – 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.
During the 1890s, Cézanne’s tendency to paint in an intimate, completely secluded environment became more and more frequent. Cézanne then discovers the areas east of Aix, which we recognize by their distinctly rocky landscapes and the abandoned dilapidated architecture that fascinated the painter. Cézanne often returned to the motif of Château Noir. Common to these spaces is decay, abandonment, a kind of poetic merging of nature with decaying spaces, and a strong melancholic component that exudes the scene.
Joseph Rishel in Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection writes: “The road to Le Tholonet, passing through a sparsely wooded, rocky landscape, had particular appeal, and just off it was the abandoned quarry of Bibemus, where he kept a small hut for his equipment within the high red walls of the artificial canyon. He was attracted to the seldom-used house, Chateau Noir, just above this road, belonging to an absentee chemical engineer. Despite its local name, its walls were actually stained a deep red, not unlike the color of the boulders in the quarry at Bibemus. It was a sinister place with half-finished structures and pointed gothic windows that held great appeal for Cézanne, who attempted to buy it, unsuccessfully, although he continued to paint there throughout the l890s. “
Meyer Schapiro writes about this composition in Cézanne: “Cézanne painted the Woods with Millstone in the South near his home at Aix. A photograph of the spot proves him remarkably faithful to the encountered scene which offered him an example of a natural chaos with traces of man in the abandoned blocks of quarried stone. But what concern us are the qualities of the picture which are more intense or of another order than those of the original site. The image is of an interior of nature, like a cavern, obstructed and without horizon or exit or outlook beyond, a wild romantic site with something of melancholy and hopelessness, but also the fascination of a huge disorder. It is the grotto of the raging, blinded Polyphemus, strewn with natural and human debris. Only the millstone with its smooth and centered form set oddly in a corner is a note of humanity at home, against which we may measure the turmoil of the other forms. Yet its purity or abstractness of shape makes it seem less human than the roughness of the rocks and trees.”
The space as a hollow has no definite form; the tilted ground fuses with the objects that rise from it and with the masses of foliage in a vertical effect like the still lifes of the same time. Lines radiate in different directions from the same axis or cross each other in their opposed movements. It is a painting built of unstable forms, without vertical or horizontal lines, completely un-architectural in spirit. Yet it is a powerfully ordered canvas in which we discover as intense a search for harmony as in the most serene works. Very striking is the pairing of elements: twin trees, twin branches, twin rocks, twin blocks of cut stone, which are composed with an eye to contrast and delicate variation as well. Especially fine is the conception of the graceful trees, twisted and divergent at the left, more smoothly curved and parallel at the right. Within the chaos of the site survives something of a natural order and rhythm.
Paul Cézanne continues to paint motifs from around Château Noir. Around 1900 he painted Cistern in the Park of Château Noir, which is in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey.