Saint-Sauveur Cathedral Portal I

Watercolour on 300 lb Paper,
104 cm x 74 cm (41" x 29 1/2")

(Private Collection, Ontario)

This watercolour and the three that follow are studies for a large oil of the same subject, which is in progress.

The medieval architecture of southern French cities such as Aix-en-Provence made a strong impression on the artist; he imagined Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) as a child and then as an adolescent going through the doorway of the cathedral at Aix, where he grew up. In addition to massiveness, there was bold graphic detail, sculpted form that was meant to be seen close up. Here, he concluded, was one of the sources of Cézanne’s shallow picture plane; it was meant to convey to the viewer the same kind of intensity, of weight suspended in space, that a person would feel while passing under the arch of the cathedral and seeing the figure of St Peter at eye level, anchoring an ascending vertical row of figures.

Fascinated with the variety of effects that the cathedral archway could provide, from graphic weightlessness to heavy mass, the artist produced a series of paintings of it, in varying scale, on heavy watercolour paper to provide texture. This serial approach was one he had used before in the Window Series, in which he had often painted the same subject several times. For instance, Glasses with Golden Rims is one of three paintings of a Queen Street store window, and Chinatown Window II is a large scale oil treatment of a window he had previously painted as a watercolour. The Aix cathedral sequence, however, most obviously suggests the serial works of the impressionists, another important point of reference for the artist’s South of France works. Yet rather than being concerned with vistas or the changing play of light (and hence form) through time, the works at Aix are concerned with the effects of perspective, more in keeping with the concerns of Cézanne and the project of Cubism.

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