The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque (Paul Cézanne, c. 1885)

The Bay from L'Estaque - Paul Cezanne - c. 1886

Artwork Information

TitleThe Bay from L'Estaque
ArtistPaul Cezanne
Datec. 1886
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions31 1/2 x 38 1/2 in
Art MovementCubism
Current LocationThe Art Institute of Chicago
Location Created Milan, Italy

About The Bay from L'Estaque

Paul Cézanne painted The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque in oil on canvas around 1885. This painting is part of the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Paul Cézanne, The Bay of Marseilles, Seen from L’Estaque, c.1885, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

What is depicted in The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque    

The painting shows the bay of Marseille viewed from nearby L’Estaque. The sea and parts of the hilly coast are represented in the central part of the painting, while the foreground is dominated by architectural elements. 

The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque – Analysis      

In interpreting the Mediterranean landscape, Cézanne developed a new form of constructing the scene that would later have a significant role in this genre’s development through the 20th century. This new form was reflected in the rejection of the principle of believability and idealization, emphasizing the crucial role of color in modeling scenes. By excluding illusionism, Cézanne opened up space for a new perception of the motifs. He did it through the exploration of the dynamics of vision in relation to proximity or distance, breaking contours and insisting on flatness as an authentic category belonging to the medium of painting.  

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 in 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 was represented through the motif of Mont Sainte-Victoire. In the painting Mont Sainte-Victoire, as well as in the landscapes from Marseille 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.

Paul Cézanne, The Bay of Marseilles, Seen from L’Estaque (detail), c.1885, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

In the domain of the organization of the composition The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque, Cézanne relies on traditional landscape painting. It refers to the division of the scene into four. plan. The foreground is occupied by architectural forms, houses, and factory chimneys. The second plane that forms the central field of the composition represents the sea. The third plane is occupied by a hilly coast, while the fourth one presents a clear sky over the bay. As is usually the case in Cézanne’s art, inventiveness is not loaded in the selection of presented motifs, but in the visual principles that guide the painter when translating the complex nature of different sensations onto the canvas. blocklike brushstrokes Cézanne subtly geometrized the scene, which rests on the dynamics of the relationship of complementary colors. Meyer Schapiro analyzed this painting in CezanneA favored high biew, the landscape gave Cézanne a command of vast space with elements of grandiose span and force; buildings, water, mountains, and sky follow in alternating movement and repose, projection and calm surface. Without paths or human figures, the world is spread out before his eyes, a theme for pure looking; it invites no action, only discernment; it is sunny, but not gay or cheerful–a balance of warmth and coolness, the momentary and the timeless, the stirring and the stable, in perfect harmony and fullness…The painting lives through the power of great contrasts: the luminous, richly broken field of reds, oranges, and greens against the blue sea; the modeled wavy mountains, convex, against the filmy, substanceless sky.  

These mountains have a human, or at least organic, quality–sleeping limbs at rest upon the earth–opposed to the rigid architecture below. The broad strata of the landscape are interlocked pairs, forming larger rectangular zones which become more cohesive still through the horizontals in the diagonal fields and the sloping forms in the horizontal. An ever-active touch, responding to the lie or swerve or rise of objects, unites this extended world from point to point. Nothing is perfectly still; the dark water has its pulsations and nuanced mood, and the pure sky, a delicate quivering of ethereal tones. Below, a great block of a building breaks the alignment of the buildings beside it and the banding of earth, sky, and distant mountains. Parallel to the ascending shoreline, it looks to the puff of smoke and the highest mountain and induces an undrawn diagonal between them across the sea. 

Paul Cézanne, The Bay of Marseilles, Seen from L’Estaque (detail), c.1885, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

But mountain and smoke are parallel to the major rooflines of this building–these are directed like the slope of the shore and re-enforced by the unique cast shadow of the chimney. Following these lines, each of another color, we come upon the finesse of the far-off jetty pointing to the puff of smoke along the same inclined axis, and below this jetty we discover the little red house on the shore and the high chimney–a mysterious unstressed grouping of isolated elements which take their places in the harmony of the whole. The chimney is an object for wondering contemplation, so beautifully wedded it is, in its multiple character, to the forms and colors of the whole–rising from light warm to dark cool, re-enacting the contrast of earth and sea, ending at a level where an inlet dovetails the line of water and land, opposing and uniting the strong horizontals of roofs and ground, and focusing the play of scattered verticals by its culminating form…A marvelous peace and strength emanate from this work–the true feeling of the Mediterranean, the joy of an ancient nature which man has known how to sustain through the simplicity of his own constructions. 

Paul Cézanne, The Gulf of Marseilles Seen from L’Estaque, c. 1885, oil on canvas, 73 x 100.3 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Related Artworks  

Paul Cézanne painted this scene on several occasions. Very similar to the composition in the Art Institute of Chicago is The Gulf of Marseilles Seen from L’Estaque, which was created around 1885. This painting is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

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