Paul Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire in oil on canvas between 1897 and 1898. This painting is in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
What is depicted in the Mont Sainte-Victoire?
The painting shows Mont Sainte-Victoire up close as well as partially its valley with vegetation.
Mont Sainte-Victoire – 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. Authentically rural, primordial Provence is represented in Cézanne’s landscapes. Adam Lesh in Mont Sainte-Victoire: The Enduring Motif writes Cezanne engaged in an artistic dialogue with Sainte Victoire, in which his increasingly geometric brushstrokes and planar simplifications found their real-world equivalents in the barren flanks of the mountain. The mountain’s hard limestone, so unsuitable for forests, made its geometry plainly visible: Sainte Victoire’s bone-like whiteness provided a blank canvas for the plastic exploration of color. The remarkable synergy of plastic exposition and geological structure suggests more than coincidence: Cezanne’s architectural, constructive brushstrokes bear such a close resemblance to the unique structure of Sainte- Victoire that the motif seems to dictate the very evolution of the artist’s style. Indeed, Cezanne’s understanding of the mountain’s form extended far beyond its mere appearance. In the person of his good friend Antoine Fortune Marion, Cezanne was thoroughly instructed in the geology and natural history of Sainte-Victoire.
In the painting Mont Sainte-Victoire, created around 1897, which is in the collection of the Hermitage, Cézanne presented a close-up view of the mountain and its valley. Relying on a palette of predominantly warm tones, Cézanne successfully achieves the effect of the heat of the Mediterranean summer. Different shades of orange in their traces ignite the glowing effect, spreading from the foot to the very top of the mountain whose contours in orange tones border the blue field of the sky. In addition to the striking constructive brushstrokes on which the coloristic structuring of the composition rests, Cézanne also leaves unpainted parts of the canvas here. This is a procedure that can often be observed in a series of paintings depicting Mont Sainte-Victoire. Researchers associated this procedure of his with the continuation of the impressionist tendency towards valuing the incompleteness of the picture or the incorporation of a kind of distance or breathing space in complex color relations.
In addition to the painting Mont Sainte-Victoire, which was created between 1897 and 1898, in the collection of the Hermitage Museum there is also another painting of the same name created between 1898 and 1902.