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Cézanne and his Sainte-Victoire

17 mai 2017

Painted and drawn nearly a hundred times, as much in oil as in watercolor, more than a simple subject, the Sainte-Victoire mountain has become a full character in the work of Paul Cézanne.

The mountain in the city

If we are talking of a purely geological point of view, the Sainte-Victoire mountain is an atypical limestone massif which dominates the Provencal plateau, from the foot of Aix-en-Provence to the border of Haut-Var. Culminating at 1011 meters above sea level, the mountain timidly appears in the universe of literature and painting only as of the eighteenth century. Few authors and artists have dared to look into it. Jean-Pierre Papon in 1780, Walter Scott in 1824, and even Stendhal in 1837 evoked it with their pen. "This Mount of Victory which ascends to heaven like an altar" wrote the poet Joachim Gasquet in 1897 in Narcissus, a philosophical and poetic novel.

Far from being an isolated place, on the contrary, Aix-en-Provence is a place of passage and vacation for many artists. They are dozens, not least of them, like Victor Hugo or Prosper Mérimée, to have paid tribute to the streets and the colorful atmosphere of the city with a thousand fountains. They scrutinized each door medallion, caressed the caryatids, the glance prisoner of this city-museum. In the name of this unparalleled interest in a millennial city famous for what it had been, none of them looked up, none of them looked far enough. Yet it was there. At each street corner, it is visible, accompanying the walker through the city. The Sainte-Victoire mountain has always looked at the surrounding Aix countryside, and no one will be able to ignore it for a long time, since a certain Paul Cézanne came into the world one day in January 1839.

Impressionnist but not too much

Louis-Auguste Cézanne, his father, a banker, destined him for a career in law. He would only have a few moments to juggle laws, decrees and legal elements. Paul Cézanne quickly turned to the world of art. A native of Aix-en-Provence and having grown up between the cobblestones of the Cours Mirabeau and the Collège Bourbon, he and Louis Marguery, Jean-Baptiste Baille and Emile Zola formed the group of "Inseparables". In 1861, the artist began his very first Parisian stay, which proved fruitful on the emotional-artistic level since he became friends with Camille Pissarro and Armand Guillaumin, but he failed the entrance contest of the Fine Arts School. As a premise of what will wait for Cézanne throughout his Parisian career: with the exception of one, all his works will be refused at the Salon and the artistic microcosm of the capital will always look from a distance and with curiosity to this "hermit of Provence".

His first years of artistic training are flourishing for Paul Cézanne on the relational level, since his path crosses the one of great figures of the Art of his century like Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet, Frédéric Bazille, Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet... he sharpens his eye and his appetite for Art in the corridors of the Louvre. With an uncertain and awkward line, which became his unusual touch, Paul Cézanne tried without being entirely convinced in Romanticism, in the still lifes and then in the modernism of Impressionism. It was not until the late 1870s that the artist finally managed to find and truly endorse his own artistic style. To the Impressionist painters whom he avoided at the beginning of his young career, he borrows a focus on vision, but disengages himself from this movement by refusing to limit himself to paint the impression of a landscape. He seeks the durable, the solid, the palpable, the concrete. His colors become deep, his shapes are executed without any real separation, the touches of colors are slightly affixed, but yet his pieces of art reveal a feeling of great coherence, a clear overall vision. A technique and a pictorial style that will culminate in his representations become world famous of the Sainte-Victoire mountain.

Dead to support the Sainte-Victoire mountain

Rooted in his Provencal land, it was to her that he always returned, and as soon as possible, because, as he wrote from Talloires on 23 July 1896 to his friend Solari, the sculptor: "The lake is very well with large hills all around... (...) it's not worth our country, when you're born there, it's fucked up, nothing is better." Aix-en-Provence, the city-museum, the county city, does not interest him. It is towards nature that he escaped, as during his college years when with his inseparables, when time was not measured, they ventured into the foothills of Sainte-Victoire. "For a long time I have remained without power, without knowing how to paint the Sainte-Victoire," he wrote, "because I imagined the concave shadow, like others who do not look, while, look, it is convex , it flees from its center, instead of being compressed, it evaporates, becomes fluid, and participates in the air's breathing.” He places it first in the background of his pictures, behind chestnut trees, bathers, as if it intimidated him. Then he comes closer, tames it and ends up placing it in the center of his canvases. Thanks to it, his way of painting evolves, the forms are simplified, what he once designed with precision is suggested by his brush. Fascinated by this demanding muse, he solves one by one the contradictions inherent in his desire to objectively represent the reality of nature while remaining faithful to fluctuating sensations. The face to face between Sainte-Victoire and his palette is transformed into a sublime epic. To capture its constantly changing light, its infinite palette of colors ranging from ocher to sky blue, he depicted him on 87 paintings, 44 oils and 43 watercolors.

Continuously walking on its paths, from Venturiers to the Prieuré, as thousands of experienced hikers and simple enthusiastic who are breathless on its slopes still do today, Paul Cézanne wrote: "There, I am good, I am good, I see clearly, there is air." He revolutionized painting and prefigured abstract art. On October 15, 1906, he was surprised by a violent storm while he was painting. Continuing his work in the rain, he made a syncope and died of pneumonia, eight days later at age 67, at the foot of his adored mountain. An end as he had imagined, since he wanted to die while painting. Two interrelated fates that have mutually enriched each other in this confrontation. It has become what he has entrusted to her. A place for the eternal, Cézanne and Sainte-Victoire united.

Dominique Gaultier and the colors of the South

2008, Dominique Gaultier settles in the South of France. Love at first sight for the region and the landscapes of Cézanne and Van Gogh. The color becomes the master word of her work and Provence her main source of inspiration. Dominique works oil painting with a knife. She finds in this technique the long-sought spontaneity. The work of matter allows her to express her perception of the colors and lights of the South.

She spends a lot of time outdoors, where she absorbs forms, colors and lights. Back in her studio, she retranscribes her impressions with a gesture as sharp as intuitive. Dominique realizes different works that go from the stylized landscape to the complete abstraction. She goes from the imagination of the forms to the purified landscapes of a Provence with intense colors and resplendent of luminosity. Freed from the superfluous and the rigor of figuration, Dominique finds her artistic achievement in a joyful and serene painting.

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