Cézanne in Gardanne by Denis Coutagne, Heritage chief curator, Manager of the “Musée Granet”.

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“To conclude, I will tell you that I am still busy painting and that there would be treasures to take away from this country which hasn’t found yet an interpreter up to the richness it shows”.

Thus does Cézanne write from Gardanne to his friend Victor Chocquet on may 11, 1886. The painter has been staying in Gardanne for already nearly a year with his wife and son who is 13 and goes to the local school.

As a matter of fact, Cézanne spends several months in Gardanne (during the year 1885-1886), in the middle of his life as a man and as a painter. On the human level, we know that he is passing through a crisis of passion, of which the stakes elude us (we don’t know the identity of the woman whom the painter loves passionately). Gardanne seems to assure him the peace and quiet he needs.

On the artistic level, he becomes the “great Cézanne” we extol. In the preceding years, he learnt in l’Estaque how to go beyond the impressionism whose benefits he once wanted to share. However, in l’Estaque, he discovers large panoramas overlooking the blue sea of the Gulf of Marseille, which gives an unsuspected classical force to his compositions. The colour becomes his material and his place, Cézanne discovers that the painting must be composed both from it and for it : “when the colour is at its richest, the form is at its fullest”. He says again.

The time Cézanne spends in Gardanne is quite limited but Cézanne needed this village to take a large step forward, losing nothing from the colour, but composing paintings from objective structuring discovered in nature.

And now, the painter realizes paintings which represent a village of Provence : neither Aix nor Peynier, nor Fuveau, nor Vauvenargues will attract the painter. Only Gardanne makes it possible for the painter to be in keeping with a “védutiste tradition”, that is to say a tradition of Italian painters who are attached to revealing pictorially towns or monuments according to a classical scheduling. There, he captures the village on a front view of the hill. Cézanne paints the village around its bell tower not once or twice, but three times ! What a symbol !

The artist wants consistency around a significant feature on a spiritual level as well as on an architectural level. Moreover, he chooses three different times of day as if he wanted to signify the totality of the time. These are not Monet’s series of paintings in front of the Cathedral of Rouen, but they are the capturing of a motionless time. As always, the painter stands back facing his motif ; in this case, he is on the hill opposite. But that is the way Cézanne likes the surroundings. He chooses another village, “Payannet”, this time to compose a painting lengthways as if it were an answer to the reclining cliff of the Sainte-Victoire.

And now, the artist paints the mountain from an angle of sight that is to be found only at this period. The mountain seems to hold on to the disappearing horizon and it brings the landscape to the foreground.

Having thus experimented with a new link to the motif, Cézanne tries to compose some other paintings in “Jas de Bouffan” in Aix, but now he wants wilder sites which could associate order and disorder at the same time. Château-Noir and Bibémus will give an answer to these new artistic demands.

Undoubtedly Gardanne will have marked that moment when Cézanne becomes the model for a new art-form in the tradition of his Italian masters, since he intended to “paint Poussin from nature”.