Lac d'Annecy, 1896
Oil on canvas
Samuel Courtauld Trust: Courtauld Gift, 1932
Lac d'Annecy, 1896, The Courtauld Gallery, London
The Lac d'Annecy was painted in July 1896 at Talloires on the shores of this lake in Haute-Savoie, in the foothills of the French Alps, looking towards the Château de Duingt, half hidden by trees on the far side of the lake. Cézanne wrote in a letter to Gasquet from Talloires:
"This is a temperate zone. The surrounding hills are quite lofty. The lake, which at this point narrows to a bottleneck, seems to lend itself to the line drawing exercises of young ladies. Certainly it is still a bit of nature, but a little like we've been taught to see it in the albums of young lady travellers."
In this canvas, with its vibrant colour and monumental structure, Cézanne was clearly determined to transcend this commonplace picturesque.
The painting is dominated by a cool colour range of blues and greens, sometimes deep and sonorous in tone, but its principal focuses are provided by the succession of warm accents which runs across it: the areas where the early morning sunshine strikes the tree-trunk on the left, the distant hills and the buildings on the opposite shore.
The composition is carefully structured, with the massive bulk of the tree as a repoussoir on the left and its branches enclosing the top; the scene is anchored in the centre by the tighter, rectilinear forms of the buildings and their elongated reflections. In reality, the castle is about a mile (1.6 km) away across the water, but, by focusing on it, he made it seem closer. The reflections are slightly distorted – like the table-legs in The Card Players, they are not exactly vertical; Cézanne would often ignore discrepancies of this sort as he concentrated on the relationships of colour and form in the canvases.
The brushwork in the background builds up a sequence of planes of colour, uniting the nearby foliage to the far hillsides; but at certain points cursive, graphic arcs detach themselves from the foliage, and accentuate the sense of formal rhythm and pattern across the top of the canvas. Such devices, which were employed to give a unified structure to the whole surface, became an even more prominent feature of Cézanne's last works, but this technique was not a means of rejecting nature; rather he was seeking, he said, to achieve a 'harmony parallel to nature': it was thus that he hoped to transform his experiences of the visible world into a lasting, coherent art.
More about this painting:
See it in the gallery (click and turn to the left)
The Courtauld Cézannes: the 2008 exhibition
VIDEO: Research Fellow Elisabeth Reissner describes Cézanne's techniques
Buy a print
License the image
See what others have to say (Artfinder)
Find out more about this painting (Wikipedia)
Explore the Courtauld's collection further