At Jas de Bouffan, the Cézanne family estate near Aix, a greenhouse had been put up in the grounds. This was where Cézanne could withdraw to work in peace and quiet on the coldest days of the few winters he spent in Provence during the 1880s. This watercolour is probably one of the works he produced in the improvised studio.
Ten clay pots of different sizes are lined up on a shelf. They contain a mass of geraniums, which, judging from the lack of foliage and length of the stems, had been observed at the end of the cold season. The light coming in from the left is counterbalanced by delicate layers of blue wash hinting at shadows that then become increasingly dark towards the right of the picture. This watercolour is, in one sense, a subtle description of the quality of the light in Provence on a winter's afternoon.
Unusually in a painting by Cézanne, we can determine the time and place. But this rather Impressionist quality blends into a poetic evocation that quickly moves away from the specific and the ephemeral. There is nothing spontaneous about this painting. The subject is observed from the front and the bracket supporting the shelf acts as a pivot. The gaps between the plant pots pushed to the back and those placed at the front of the shelf create an impression of depth, whereas the stems and leaves form a tangled design that is as lyrical as it is natural. Finally, all Cézanne's ideas on form and expression seem to be present here in this masterful watercolour.