Monday, December 03, 2012

A Masterful Exploration Of Line, Plane And Color

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)
Un Coin de Bois, Pointoise
Private Collection

Oil On Canvas
26 Inches by 22 7/8 Inches


This breathtaking canvas rewards hours and hours of study. It is my mother’s favorite Cézanne painting—and mine as well.

The painting, among other things, is a masterful exploration of line and plane—as well as color.

The painting is mysterious, moody, menacing—and totally gripping and completely hypnotic.

The painting is also beautiful beyond description—and beautiful from any distance.

Cézanne began work on the canvas in 1875, in the Paris suburb of Pointoise. He completed the painting the following year.

The painting’s first public appearance was at the Third Impressionist Exhibition, held in 1877 at 6 Rue Le Peletier near the old Opéra-Comique. (The Opéra-Comique was to burn to the ground ten years later during a performance of Ambroise Thomas’s “Mignon”. Cézanne was in the theater the night of the fire, but survived the disaster—unlike 84 persons, who perished that night.)

Cézanne’s painting did not find a buyer at the Third Impressionist Exhibition. After the exhibition had closed, the painting was consigned to Durand-Ruel, who maintained the canvas in the Durand-Ruel inventory for many years until a buyer could be found. (Such was not at all unusual for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artworks. Many such works remained in the Durand-Ruel inventory for decades—Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s legendary “Luncheon Of The Boating Party”, painted in 1881, remained in the Durand-Ruel inventory until 1923, when it was finally sold to Duncan Phillips.)

Cézanne’s painting has always been privately owned; it has never been the property of a public collection or public institution. Since the painting first left the Durand-Ruel inventory more than 110 years ago, there have been only three sale transactions and four owners.

Oddly, each time the painting has changed hands, it has been sold under a different name. The painting has been known—and sold—as: A Corner Of The Woods, Pointoise; Orchard, Cote Saint-Denis, at Pointoise; and Oxen Hill.

The painting was loaned in 2005 to the Museum Of Modern Art in New York for the exhibition, “Pioneering Modern Painting: Cézanne And Pissarro”, one of the most important exhibitions in recent MOMA history. At the MOMA exhibition, the Cézanne painting was hung next to a Camille Pissarro canvas of the very same scene painted at the very same time. Pissarro’s treatment of the scene was entirely conventional, especially when seen alongside the Cézanne, a work of genius.

When the 2005 MOMA exhibition traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art and Musée d'Orsay, this particular Cézanne did not travel with the exhibition. The painting had been loaned solely for the MOMA showing; another Cézanne painting had to be substituted for the Los Angeles and Paris venues.

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