My Favourite Painting: Will Gompertz

'It’s a dear old friend I frequently visit at the Courtauld Gallery'

Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine, 1887, Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), 26¼in by 36¼in, The Courtauld Gallery

Mr Gompertz says:
‘Frankly, I could have picked any number of Cézannes as my favourite painting, but I chose this landscape because it’s a dear old friend I frequently visit at the Courtauld Gallery. I love the way it shimmers with his staccato brushstrokes and sings with his symphonic and melodious greens and pinks.

‘It’s a no-holds-barred enquiry into how we see, but, more than that, this is a visual love letter to his home of Aix and a view he could never get enough of, and—through his eyes—neither can I.’

Will Gompertz is the BBC’s Arts Editor. 

John McEwan comments:
‘In 1886, Cézanne’s banker father died, leaving him free of financial worry. It was just as well: Cézanne didn’t have his first solo show until 1895, the year after publication of the first substantial article on his work.

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‘This landscape was also first shown in 1895, in his hometown of Aix-en-Provence in an exhibition by local amateur artists. He gave it away as a present to a young admirer, his future memoirist Joachim Gasquet, hence the rare addition of his signature.

‘Cézanne always loved the country round Aix. As a schoolboy, he and his best friend, Emile Zola, would take any opportunity, as Zola recalled, to go ‘for endless strolls across the hills’. In summer, they swam; in autumn, they carried guns for hunting, more for the fun of firing than filling a game-bag. ‘The hunting party always finished in the shade of a tree…,’ wrote Zola, ‘lying on our backs… chatting away about our loves’, chiefly poetry.

‘The older he got, the more Cézanne treasured Provence, especially those childhood haunts overlooked by Mont Sainte-Victoire—often a larger presence in his paintings, a symbol of constancy, than in reality, lying eight miles from Aix.

‘The painter Maurice Dennis, responsible for an early and influential appraisal, wrote: ‘I have never heard an admirer of Cézanne give me a clear and precise reason for his admiration.’ Samuel Courtauld, founder of the Courtauld Gallery collection, had his epiphany when a young First World War-airman friend explained a Cézanne landscape: ‘It makes you go this way, and that way, and then off the deep-end altogether!’’