(Aix-en-Provence 1839 - Aix-en-Provence 1906)
Forest Scene (Sous-bois)
Numbered 7 in pencil on the verso.
207 x 127 mm. (8 1/8 x 5 in.)
A characteristic of the watercolours of Cézanne is the striking balance the artist was able to achieve between the pencil drawing itself, the delicate touches of watercolour laid over this, and the areas of the paper left in reserve, untouched by pencil or paintbrush. The German poet Rainier Maria Rilke described Cezanne’s watercolours in a letter to the artist Paula Modersohn-Becker, just after having seen an exhibition of them in 1907, as ‘very beautiful. Just as confident as the paintings, and as light as the paintings are heavy. Landscapes, very light pencil outlines and here and there, as if just for emphasis and confirmation, there is an accidental scattering of color, a row of spots, wonderfully arranged and with a security of touch: as if mirroring a melody.’
Studies of trees form one of the largest subgroups of Cézanne’s landscape watercolours. The subject allowed the artist to divide the scene into lines and dabs of colour, with the white areas where the paper was left in reserve used for the sunlight filtered through the canopy of trees, branches and leaves, depicted with thin washes of watercolour. As Götz Adriani has written of such works, ‘watercolors proved to be almost ideal for recording the most fleeting natural phenomena on the spot. As he gained assurance in the niceties of watercolor technique, Cézanne was able to register his ideas instantly. Isolated treetops, blossoming tendrils, or simple patterns formed of branches and leaves that would scarcely have been of sufficient interest for long and tedious work on canvas reveal, when depicted in watercolor, a remarkably lyrical aspect of the painter. The most trivial things are presented with great care, and ephemeral impressions not normally associated with him – the barely perceptible motion of small branches in the wind, or the diaphanous reflection of clusters of trees in the water – are captured and given permanence.’
Although dated by John Rewald to c.1882-1884 in his catalogue of Cézanne’s watercolours, the present sheet was dated by Lionello Venturi to c.1895-1900 in his notes for the unpublished, revised edition of his 1936 catalogue raisonné.