Van Gogh and Cezanne: Meaning and Technique

Image left: Vincent van Gogh “The Ravine” (1889). Image right: Paul Cezanne “Quarry Near Chateau Noir” (1895). 

Both Post-Impressionistic depictions of geological formations near the artists’ provincial residences, these two images may feature similar subject matters, but their meanings and executions could not be more different. Van Gogh’s “Ravine” is an exercise in subjectivity. It emphasizes emotion over reality, while Cezanne’s watercolor is just the opposite.

With its cool, muted colors and curvaceous forms, Van Gogh’s piece looks like an underwater seascape. The sky peeking out from the top of the gorge features ripples just like water when looking up at the surface from below. This aquatic theme could be pointing to van Gogh’s emotional state. At the time this painting was made, he had voluntarily checked into the asylum Saint-Rémy after a mental breakdown (“Vincent van Gogh Biography” 2015) so perhaps the artist was feeling a bit “underwater.”

While van Gogh’s piece is all about emotion, Cezanne’s revolves around objectivity and technique. The artist was fascinated by the act of perception. Before painting a stroke, he would obsessively study the landscape and only paint what he saw (Saavine 1). While Van Gogh used thick black lines for emotional emphasis, Cezanne never used outlines because they do not exist in nature, resulting in an chaos on the canvas. This disorder is captivating and looks as though the image exists in the second before the eye solidifies the colors and shapes into a cohesive scene. As opposed to Van Gogh’s weighty scene, Cezanne’s rocks feel light and airy, bathed in swaths of warm and bright hues.

References Editors. “Vincent van Gogh Biography.” The website. 6 October 2015. 13 March 2017. <>

Savvine, Ivan. “Paul Cézanne Artist Overview and Analysis”. 2017. 13 March 2017. <>


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