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This article is taken from
100 Best Paintings in London

Text by Geoffrey Smith


Arcadian Dreams / Symbolist Visions


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Paul Cézanne: Lac d’Annecy 1896

London, Courtauld Institute Gallery

The Lac d’Annecy is situated in the Haute Savoie, in the approaches to the French Alps. Cézanne has chosen a view of the Château de Duingt from across the lake. The composition is framed and confined by a tree which is positioned close to the left edge of the canvas and whose branches intrude from the top edge. The tree seems to cast its shadow across the whole composition which is dominated by rich, but cool tones of blue and green.

The hill behind the château and the more distant hills are fashioned with blocks of colour, the principal blue tones broken by warmer areas of russet and ochre. Each of these blocks and strokes are composed using an immense variety of subtly different colour within the blue-green scheme. The effect is kaleidoscopic but at the same time calming and still.

This work forms part of an increasing trend in Cézanne’s late output to reduce motifs to their essentials — small areas of colour are used as a ‘shorthand’ to accentuate the differing planes and facets of the landscape – a tendency which later culminated in the famous series of studies of Mont Sainte-Victoire. At that time he wrote to Émile Bernard that ‘Nature must be dealt with in terms of cylinders, spheres and cones’. In this painting we can see the genesis of that approach (a decade or so before the groundbreaking movements of the early twentieth century changed everything) and the clear debt owed to Cézanne by both the Fauves and, in particular, the Cubists is very evident.

Not long before his death in 1906 Cézanne wrote to his son that ‘…the realisation of my sensations is always painful. I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolding before my senses. I have not the magnificent richness of colouring that animates nature’. Perhaps he came close to this impossible and frustrating quest in this work.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Contemporary Works

1895 Frederic, Lord Leighton: Flaming June, Ponce, Puerto Rico, Museo de Arte

1896 Paul GauguinScene from Tahitian Life, St Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

1896 Henri de Toulouse-LautrecLa Toilette, Paris, Musée d’Orsay

1897 John William Waterhouse: Hylas and the Nymphs, Manchester City Art Gallery


Further Paintings of Interest


Paul Gauguin

Ia Orana Maria

Paul Gauguin

Château Noir

Paul Cézanne