Paul Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire and Château Noir in oil on canvas in 1904. This painting is part of the Artizon Museum collection in Tokyo.
What is depicted in the Mont Sainte-Victoire and Château Noir?
The central part of the painting shows Château Noir surrounded by a dense forest, which is towered over by Mont Sainte-Victoire.
Mont Sainte-Victoire and Château Noir – Analysis
The motif of Mont Sainte-Victoire is continuously present in Cézanne’s work. Considering that Cézanne spent most of his life in Aix-en-Provence, it is not surprising that this motif is so prominently established in his work. In interpreting this Mediterranean landscape, Cézanne experimented with a new form of landscape that would later be so significant. This new form 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.
Mount Sainte-Victoire is a very important topos in the culture of Provence. Sainte-Victoire is a limestone mountain ridge that extends between Aix-en-Provence and Pourrières. The name of this mountain is associated with an important moment in Roman history. Namely, the Battle of Aquae Sextiae took place here in 102 BC. In that battle Roman consul and general Gaius Marius defeated the Teutons. During the Middle Ages and later, Mount Sainte-Victoire was a place of pilgrimage. On the mountain, there is a monumental cross that was built four years after the end of the Franco-Prussian war. The cross overlooks the chapel of Notre Dame de la Victoire. In the corpus of Mediterranean culture, Provence has an important place and this mountain, as a symbol of the Mediterranean heritage in French culture, was an inspiration for many artists. Before Cézanne, Jean Antoine Constantin, Prosper Grésy, and François Marius Granet included the motif of Mount Sainte-Victoire in their paintings.
Industrial and rural landscape
Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire in watercolor and oil on canvas techniques. During the 1870s, under the strong influence of the impressionists, especially Pissarro, Cézanne began to paint plein air. In his further development of landscape painting, a parallel flow can be seen that rests on the antipodes in the vision of the landscape – industrialized and rural landscape. As an important port city, Marseille was at the forefront of the process of industrialization and the architectural and urban transformation that it brought with it. In the mid-1880s, Cézanne painted both motifs from Marseille and those from nearby L’Estaque. In his work on these landscapes, Cézanne developed a kind of structure of a landscape within a landscape. That double landscape was based on harmonizing the elements of industrial architecture, above all the chimneys, and treating them as a micro-landscape in a wider presented natural framework. Cézanne used different techniques by blending the chimney with the surrounding vegetation, or pine branches. Researchers agree that Cézanne was ambivalent towards the changes that industrialization brought and that he perceived them as a new visual element that needed to find a role in a harmonious scene. On the other side, the still untouched rural oasis of Provence is Mont Sainte-Victoire. When painting Mont Sainte-Victoire, as well as in the landscapes from Marseilles and L’Estaque, 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.
In the painting Mont Sainte-Victoire and Château Noir, Paul Cézanne deals with his frequent preoccupation, which is the relationship between nature and architecture. Cézanne builds the harmony of the coexistence of these forms with dramatic contrasting colors. In the tension of warm and cold tones, Cézanne does not try to isolate or emphasize the Château area, but on the contrary, he merges it with the forest that surrounds it. By painting the dense vegetation so that it forms a kind of frame in the painting itself, Cézanne directs the viewer’s gaze to a building that is surmounted by a mountain whose tones continue the tones of the sky.
Paul Cézanne repeatedly returned to the motif of Château Noir, so the painting of the same name, which he worked on at the same time as Mont Sainte-Victoire and Château Noir, is kept in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.