This remarkable and rare oil-study of trees was made by Cézanne during his last years in the countryside of Aix-en-Provence, a few kilometres from the Montagne Sainte-Victoire. He was then living in seclusion from the art world, painting and living out his days in the familiarity of his area. Among all the topics approached by the master during his career, tress and forest were the most beloved ones, especially at the end of his life. Cézanne would often create composition entirely without pencil sketches to plan out the canvas beforehand, but just with brush and sketch with paint directly on the surface. He could concentrate power and emotion into a bare minimum of brushstrokes. This rhythm and vibrant energy are evident in the rapid, textured strokes of the present landscape.
The composition is centred on a tree, designed with grey and brownish lines and contrasted by brushes of different tones of green, around the trunk and the branches. The outline of a second tree is visible on the background of the painting. The ground is simply represented using two different ochres, evoking the red sandstone of the region. With its large stretches of unpainted canvas and its almost sketch-like brushstrokes, it resembles the simplified qualities of Cézanne’s singular watercolor landscapes.
In 1950-1951, Lionello Venturi poetically described this powerful representation as follows: “A chestnut-tree, a trunk, branches, spots on the foliage, a ground, everything almost without color, and the rest is uncovered canvas. However, this tree is alive, with his energy, his aspirations, his deserved pride. It’s a model of human imagination. ”. Venturi titled the painting “Un ippocastano” (A Chestnut-tree) and dated it around 1890, maybe in reference to Cezanne’s family country-house, the Jas de Bouffan. Cézanne painted many chestnut-trees surrounding this farm at this time, such as Aisle of Tree in Jas de Bouffan (1888, Barnes Foundation), until he sold the place in 1899, after his mother’s death in 1897. But John Rewald gave it a later date, around 1900, at a time when Cézanne was painting landscapes in different places in Aix-de-Provence’s countryside, around Château Noir, Le Tholonet and Bibémus. The artist alternatively used a room in Château Noir and a cabanon in Bibémus’ quarry before the construction of his Lauves studio, in 1902, from which he continued painting nature but could also work on larger productions.
Originally this painting was known to be part of Ambroise Vollard’s collection. As dealer and collector, Vollard had originally discovered Cezanne’s paintings through Pissarro’s and Caillebotte’s collections, before organizing an exhibition of his work in his gallery in 1895 and becoming then Cézanne’s exclusive dealer. Appraised by the collector Vollard, the present work however remained in his collection all his life. At his death in 1939, it went to his brother Lucien, who immediately got the works under his charge safely out of Paris. After the War, the present work was exhibited in 1950-51 at Ottawa in a major show entitled Paintings from the Vollard Collection. At his death in February 1952, Lucien had designated Edouard Jonas as his sole heir. A former councilman and inaugural director of the Musée Cognac-Jay (1929) in Paris who then became an art dealer before getting into the oil business in the USA, Jonas had been very close to the Vollard family since the early 30’s. His collection was extremely well selected. As far as we can assert, there were seven Cézanne works in the Jonas collection. He died in 1961 and the collection passed to his widow Assunta Bertzozzi, who lived between Ellinwood (Kansas), New York and Paris. By 1968, she sold the work to Jacques Ullmann, Paris, who owned one of the best collections in France in the 50-60’s, with works by the main Pont-Aven, Symbolist and Surrealist artists, and works by Picasso, Giacometti, Brancusi, Miro, etc. It has remained in the family until now.
The present work has received the export passport from the French government.