Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Paul Cézanne - Lac d’Annecy

It was, said Paul Cézanne, the type of landscape young lady travellers like to sketch in their albums. His holiday by the pretty Lac d'Annecy, in the foothills of the French Alps in 1896, was one of the few occasions when this most rebellious of 19th-century French artists played the conventional bourgeois, and in his letters you can feel him strain at the sweaty, starched collar. He was staying in a hotel with his wife, Hortense, and their 14-year-old son, also called Paul. This game of happy families was a charade: Cézanne and Hortense mostly lived apart. Perhaps it was this sense of hypocrisy that poisoned the landscape for him, making him see in it the dead hand of the picturesque: nature here was not wild as in his native Provence, "but a little like we've been taught to see it ... "

The view is framed by a tree whose broad trunk rises on the left, and whose branches cut across the upper part of the picture in two dark waving thrusts towards the bottom. The lake divides the canvas in half and its far shore appears as a straight line, which perfectly bisects the main body of the trunk. So the painting is structured like a "T" on its side, while across the crystalline lake floats a chateau whose tower is a dense cylinder.

The Lac d'Annecy is, in its very violence, a triumph of order. Cézanne unleashes wild forces above the lake in order to tame them. The forces are his own - and so is the resolution. The drama of this painting is the emotional drama of the painter sitting there at his easel, thinking terrible things, overcoming his terror and anger, finding in the landscape a multi-faceted mirror of his inner struggle.

Extracted from an article by Jonathan Jones of

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