The House of the Hanged Man (1873) by Paul Cezanne
Interpretation of Impressionist Landscape Painting

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The House of the Hanged Man
(La maison du pendu)
By Cezanne.
Regarded as one of the
great modern paintings of
the nineteenth century.

The House of the Hanged Man (1873)


Analysis of The House of the Hanged Man
Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscape Paintings


Name: The House of the Hanged Man Auvers-sur-Oise (1873)
Artist: Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Impressionist landscape painting
Movement: Impressionism
Location: Musee d'Orsay

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


See: How to Appreciate Art.


The House of the Hanged Man at Auvers-sur-Oise was painted when Cezanne was 33, and marks the stage in his career when he was much encouraged and assisted by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). The latter's friendship and sympathetic feeling for artists of Dr Gachet - an amateur painter who was later to have Vincent Van Gogh under his medical care - brought Cezanne to the region of Auvers-sur-Oise and Pontoise. He lodged with Pissarro at the Hermitage Inn at Pontoise and set himself to the division of colour in the Impressionist fashion, according to Pissarro's own principles. These imposed a severe discipline on Cezanne whose tendency so far had been to let himself go with Romantic violence in lurid colour and subject, but here the result was a magnificent work. Cezanne still painted with more impasto than Pissarro or Monet found suitable and applied extra layers that created a heavy grain (scumble) though he smoothed down the heaviness in the areas of light with a palette knife. Already he shows a greater concern with the solidity of objects than other Impressionist painters but there is serenity of atmosphere as well as strength in his composition. But there is no trace of Cezanne's earlier Romanticism - except for the title. According to the art critic Lionello Venturi, "nobody was ever hanged in that house". Of course this is quite irrelevant to the picture in which there is no hint of anything sinister, just an aesthetic preoccupation with form and colour.

NOTE: For the amazing story behind French Impressionism and the group of progressive artists who started it, see our 10-part series, beginning with: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Analysis of The House of the Hanged Man by Cezanne

This landscape painting, the most interesting and beautiful picture of Cezanne's Auvers period, illustrates his conversion to Impressionism. Evidently it was a very slow process. Most of the landscapes of this period, including this one, bear witness to his hesitations. Broken brushstrokes with a light brush have not completely ousted the heavy brushstrokes, nor the palette knife, his usual weapons hitherto. Both techniques can be seen in La Maison du Pendu. Traces of colour put on with the palette knife can be found in the sky and on some of the walls. Other parts are more lightly worked over. The complete colour scheme is definitely an Impressionist one. In fact this is a key picture. The same thing applies as far as its construction is concerned. The choice of subject suggests a wish to create large masses; those steep roads isolate the house and make it spring out of a hollow.



Cezanne has also avoided any sort of dramatic or literary theme, preferring a typical commonplace subject favoured by the Impressionist group. Even so the picture reveals Cezanne's own idiosyncratic brand of Impressionism. To begin with, the composition contains a firm overall structure, which guides the viewer's eye around the canvas. This is based on the diagonal track descending left-to-right in the foreground; the vertical trees which partly obscure the house; the undefined neighbouring house that connects with the view across the roofs of the town into the distance. The dark thatching on the roofs of the houses in the foreground (right) provides the eye with no detail and thus funnels it down to the blue door of the house.

The Hanged Man's House was one of the three canvases that Cezanne showed in 1874 at the first of the Impressionist exhibitions in Paris. The critics did not spare him, and one of them published his contempt for the artist in the following words: "Monsieur Cezanne will excuse us for not coming as far as La Maison du Pendu. We prefer to stop on the way."

NOTE: For other masterpieces of plein-air landscape painting by Cezanne, see: The Bridge at Maincy (1879) and the extended series of Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings (1882-1906).

The painting was purchased at the Impressionist show for an unknown sum by the French aristocrat Count Armand Doria (1824-96), an early collector of Impressionist paintings - he already possessed works by Renoir (1841-1919), Pissarro (1830-1903), Monet (1840-1926) and Sisley (1839-99). (Note: It was the first work that Cezanne managed to sell to a collector.) Later, as a result of persistent requests by Victor Chocquet (1821-91), Count Doria gave him this picture in exchange for another of Cezanne's, The Melting Snow (Chocquet collection). At the Chocquet sale in 1899, the picture was sold for 6,510 francs to Count de Camondo, who bequeathed it to the Louvre Museum in 1908.

Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscape Paintings

Canal St Martin (1870) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.

Impression, Sunrise (1873) by Monet.
Musee Marmottan-Monet, Paris.

Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes (1873) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.

Misty Morning (1874) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.

Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877) by Renoir.
Musee d'Orsay.

Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise (1877) Pissarro.
Musee d'Orsay.

Snow at Louveciennes (1878) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.


• For an explanation of other Impressionist landscapes, see: Homepage.

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