Paul Cézanne painted The Large Pine in oil on canvas between 1887 and 1889. This painting is in the collection of the São Paulo Museum of Art in São Paulo.
What is depicted in the Large Pine?
The composition is established as a Mediterranean landscape with a monumental pine tree in the central plan.
The Large Pine – 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.
Meyer Schapiro provides an analysis of this work in Cézanne: A poetic conception of the tree as a giant individual, rising to the heavens above the heads of its smaller fellows, twisted in axis and shaken by great forces, but supreme in its height and vast spread. Its rise from the ground is dramatic in its stages: through a sturdy bent trunk, far stronger than any other we see; through a region of bare and dying branches, leafless against the sky; then the great arched crown of foliage spanning almost the entire sky. The landscapists of the Romantic school, Huet and Dupre, had painted similar heroic trees, but the stormy sky and tormented ground in their pictures are a more obvious external motivation of the agony of the tree. In Cézanne’s picture, the drama is in the tree itself, with its strained, conflicting forms, reacting to the wind. With a remarkable simplicity that often passes for naivete but is the wisdom of great art, he presents his vision of the tree in the clearest way, placing the tree in the center of the field directly before us. But he knows how to use the surrounding elements to support the drama. The ground slopes and the other trees are inclined away from the big trunk as if they have been parted by the giant’s upward movement. We see no branches beside those of the central tree; its torment and spread are a unique fact. The picture is a beautiful harmony of blues and greens, in which the occasional warm touches in the branches and foliage pick up the strong ochre band of the road. Simple and perfectly legible, it has also a great vitality and movement through the brush strokes. With few lines, they create by their changing directions a perpetual stirring of the space, great eddying currents, winds, and turbidities. Yet they resolve into a few large masses of color.
Cézanne’s feeling for the great tree goes back to his youth. In a letter to Zola in I858, he wrote: “Do you remember the pine on the bank of the [river] Arc, with its hairy head projecting above the abyss at its foot? This pine which protected our bodies with its foliage from the heat of the sun, oh ! may the gods preserve it from the woodman’s baleful axe !” And in a poem of 1863:
“The tree shaken by the fury of the winds
Stirs its stripped branches in the air,
An immense cadaver that the mistral swings.”
Paul Cézanne painted the same motif in the painting Great Pine near Aix, created between 1895 and 1897. This painting is in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.