The Tree by the Bend
Oil on canvas
60 x 73 cm
Gift of Lilly Schwabacher, Ascona, in memory of Guste and Bernhard Mayer
Accession number: B82.0001
Cézanne’s very early works often exhibited a violent, sensual romanticism, and it was only after ten years of effort, in the early 1870s, that his mode of presentation became more tempered and refined. In part, this had to do with the friendship and informal teaching of Camille Pissarro, with whom he worked between 1872 and 1874 and continued to visit from time to time until 1881. As the two painted side by side, Pissarro gently encouraged Cézanne to establish a more direct contact between his paintings and nature and also awakened in him a lasting love of color. However, even during this time, when Cézanne adopted a shorter brush stroke, avoided black, and worked in the open air, there were important differences between his work and that of his Impressionist mentor. Something of the tendency to geometrize is already apparent, as is an ongoing search for new means of representing depth and volume. In fact, Cézanne never fully subscribed to Impressionism; he remained unsatisfied with the Impressionist idea of presenting only that which the eye sees. Later in his life he explained: “There are two things in the painter: the eye and the brain. The two must co-operate; one must work for the development of both, but as a painter of the eye through the outlook on nature, of the brain through the logic of organized sensations which provide the means of expression.”
The years 1876–1880 represented a period of transition for Cézanne. Working mainly in and around Paris, in his native Aix-en-Provence, and in l’Estaque, he slowly detached himself from Impressionist influences and developed a more intellectual conception of his subject matter. The Tree by the Bend was most probably painted at this time. Vestiges of Impressionism can still be recognized in the atmospheric sky, in which blue and rose tones combine to create a transitory, fluid effect, and in the composition which, despite its many rectilinear aspects, has neither the tight construction and organization nor the highly simplified geometric forms characteristic of the artist’s later work. Nevertheless, certain pictorial conceptions point to a new approach. Depth is suggested through the juxtaposition of cool green and warm ocher touches in the foreground. Here the artist avoids the converging lines of conventional perspective; he creates space by overlapping color planes and strong but truncated diagonals at the right and center, and by the careful placement of the semi-circular road that winds around the tall tree on the left. In the middleground, particularly in the trees and hills, Cézanne now uses rhythmical square and rectangular brush strokes, which structure the forms and create a sense of solidity.
Although Cézanne mature style was not yet fully realized in The Tree by the Bend, he had clearly moved away from capturing the momentary aspects of landscape in favor of a generalized conception of its underlying structures. After twenty years of study and thought, he was well on his way toward reaching his own personal vision.