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Pines and Rocks (Fontainebleau?)

Paul Cézanne1897

MoMA The Museum of Modern Art

MoMA The Museum of Modern Art

Vibrations of Light

Unlike the expansive vistas often seen in landscape paintings, Cézanne's Pines and Rocks is a tightly framed, compressed view of nature. Low bushes and massive boulders form a bulwark against the forest, and a vertical line of pine trees extends upward, obscuring the view of the sky beyond. Though the trees and rocks firmly structure the scene, Cézanne also infused Pines and Rocks with a sense of airiness and movement. Glimpses of bare, unfinished canvas peek through the dense weave of brushstrokes. At first glance, Cézanne's palette seems limited to blues, greens, and browns, but a closer look reveals endless variations of colors, including shades of yellows, violets, and reds. Similarly, at close range the painting appears nearly abstract—a dancing network of innumerable brushstrokes, each depositing a specific color. In some areas Cézanne laid characteristically parallel brushstrokes, while in others the brushwork appears looser, more rapidly applied. Stepping back, these varied marks coalesce into a shimmering effect that Cézanne called "vibrations of light."

Where Are We?

There is still some uncertainty as to where and when Pines and Rocks was painted. For years, scholars believed the work was painted in 1904, and that it depicted Aix-en-Provence, an area of southern France where Cézanne would live until his death in 1906. More recently, it has been dated to around 1897. Scholars based this provenance on the relatively thin application of paint on the canvas, a contrast to the thick, often diagonally slanted brushstrokes that characterized Cézanne's final works. Aligning these stylistic clues with Cézanne's biography, it is now believed that that the locale represented is either in the Forest of Fontainebleau or some other region near Paris, where Cézanne spent a good deal of time in the late 1890s.

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