Paul Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire in oil on canvas between 1902 and 1904. This painting is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
What is depicted in the Mont Sainte-Victoire?
In the painting Mont Sainte-Victoire next to the mountain, houses, and nature at its foot are represented.
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.
The Mont Sainte-Victoire painting from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is characterized by the refined serenity of a thoughtful geometrized structure. Using a complex color structure, Cézanne translated the gentleness of the Mediterranean environment into a sublime and monumental component. Theodore Rousseau, Jr. writes in Paul Cezanne The Mont Sainte-Victoire dominates all the countryside around Aix like a huge marble pyramid. The people of the region foretell the weather by the way it looks and has certain superstitious beliefs about it. Cezanne painted it over and over again, and at the end of his life, it had become almost his only model.
By dividing the composition into two clearly separated fields – the lower field of the valley and the upper field of the mountain and the sky, Cézanne opened up space for a precisely structured landscape form in which color is a building element. By carefully arranging the colored fields, Cézanne achieved the impression that the forms arise from each other, and by breaking the contours and blending the motifs with color, a balanced view of the overall ambience was established. Joseph J. Rishel writes in Cézanne in Philadelphia collections:
“As if Cezanne had witnessed a passing storm, the sky moves from dense blues and greens on the left to more feathery and paler hues on the right and with more white of the ground showing through. Boot, perhaps to balance the great form of the peak, a lovely pink cloud, edged with pale green, drifts say it. This is an exultant work of brilliance and august grandeur, yet for all its titanic energy, there is no sense of excess or self-indulgence. While we may share fully in the emotional exuberance of its creation, the formal resolution and absoluteness of this image continue to awe. “
Another painting of Mont Sainte-Victoire from this series of landscapes by Cézanne with a very similar composition is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is estimated that this painting was created between 1902 and 1906.