Exhibition Archive

Cézanne Watercolours

June – July 2003

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples, Bottle and Chairback 1904-6  

This concise display focused on the watercolours of Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906). Once considered a minor part of his oeuvre, they are now recognised as among his finest achievements. Having experimented with the medium intermittently from 1866, Cézanne took it up seriously after the mid-1880s, producing more than 650 watercolours over the course of his career. While some served as preparatory studies for paintings, the vast majority were conceived as independent, fully realised works, despite an apparent lack of ‘finish’. Their motifs – familiar stretches of Provençal landscape, tables or bowls laden with fruit – mirror those of the paintings, but express an altogether lighter, more lyrical vision.

Seemingly spontaneous, the watercolours in fact involved a slow, complex working up of successive layers of colour and wash over an initial pencil drawing. By the late 1890s Cézanne’s mastery of the medium allowed for a range of highly nuanced luminous effects. Developing rich, saturated colours and exposing the white ground of the paper to create bright accents and spatial depth, his radical experiments pointed the way for a younger generation of artists including Picasso and the Fauves.