Study of Trees, c. 1896-1899
graphite on wove paper
47.2 x 31.5 cm; framed 73.7 x 94 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 23532r)
As this two-sided sheet shows, Paul Cézanne was not particularly concerned with depicting a specific place. For him, the countryside was rather a subject for experimentation, in which every motif fit into a unified whole constructed of forms and surfaces. Thus, on the verso, the two sides of a slope evoke the roof of a house, while at the right a narrow vertical strip left as reserve suggests the slender trunk of a tree. Attention is focused on the real subject of the work: the different intensities of the shadows, rendered by areas of watercolour shading from green to dark blue. The graphite line disappears, becoming merely suggestive, if not superfluous.
In contrast, the (probably later) recto drawing appears in certain respects more naturalistic, despite its starkness. A broad path can be distinguished, bordered by trees with seemingly leafless twisted branches. And while flat areas of colour create a sense of two dimensionality in the verso watercolour, here the placement of the trees in a slanting line functions as a visual strategy to suggest perspective. There are also some areas delicately shaded with pencil, which produce a contoured effect.