In his last decades, Heidegger often travelled to Provence, the setting for many of Cezanne's paintings, to meet friends and give seminars. Heidegger became fascinated with the dozens of paintings Cezanne had made of Provence's Mt Sainte Victoire, and made several pilgrimages to the peak.
Julian Young notes the way that Cezanne's paintings of Sainte-Victoire often seem to hover on the boundary between figuration and abstraction. Cezanne was always a figurative artist, but as he painted Sainte-Victoire again and again he began to appreciate the abstract quality of the mountain's rocky slopes. Cezanne began to use semi-abstract blocks of colour to express the solidity and depth that the mountain's surfaces sometimes concealed.
The stylised, semi-abstract nature of some of Cezanne's paintings of Sainte-Victoire means that, when we turn our gaze toward one of them, our eyes may take a short time to 'recognise' the painter's subject matter. For a moment or two we may see, not a mountain in the south of France, but a tangle of lines and colours - a sort of pre-composition, out of which our minds 'construct' Sainte-Victoire. In the precious, disconcerting moments before we 'see' the mountain, we may notice something analogous to the mysterious 'earth' underlying our limited, constructed 'world'. We may realise that the reality we know is not the only or ultimate reality, but one of an infinite number of possible expressions of the 'earth' which is its ground. This realisation can fill us with terror, because it seems to undermine the certainties by which we have become accustomed to living. It can fill us with wonder and excitement for the same reason. Heidegger was obsessed with Cezanne's paintings of Sainte-Victoire because he saw, in these arrangements of paint on canvas, a more profound exploration of the limits of reality than anything that could be achieved by a theoretical physicist or a rocket-probe aimed into outer space.