Paul Cézanne’s (b. 1839, Aix-en-Provence, France; d. 1906, Aix-en-Provence) complex still lifes are an important part of his quest for empirical truth in painting. Because these inanimate objects did not move, like human subjects might, during the painting sessions, and they were available any time of day or night, they were an ideal subject for a slow-working, analytical artist like Cézanne. Sometimes the fruit or flowers he used would wither and die before the painting was completed and would need to be replaced by paper flowers and artificial fruit.
His work was motivated by a desire to
sculptural weight and volume to everyday
Cézanne’s still lifes ambiguities
abound. As if by magic, the
see in Still
Life: Plate of Peaches is able
levitate several pieces of fruit without any
visible means of
support. The use of mixed
perspectives adds to the precarious effect.
is as tentative and perplexing
as it is stable and tangible (Matthew
Drutt, ed., Thannhauser: The
Thannhauser Collection of
the Guggenheim Museum [New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2001], p. 45).
Cézanne painted almost 200 still lifes,
on simple household items. He loved the rich
basic shapes of fruit. He also liked
the challenge of creating a
using everyday objects. He appreciated fruits
flowers as the products of nature, as well
as common domestic objects
like pitchers, jars,
and bottles, which he felt held an admirable
of craftsmanship (Henri Lallemand, Cézanne:
Visions of a Great Painter [New
Smithmark Publishers Inc., 1994], p. 88).
“I will astonish Paris with an apple,” he once said (“Cezanne’s Astonishing Apples,” Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Cézanne set up his still lifes with great care. A testimony by an acquaintance describes his method of preparing a still life: “No sooner was the cloth draped on the table with innate taste than Cézanne set out the peaches in such a way as to make the complementary colors vibrate, grays next to reds, yellows to blues, leaning, tilting, balancing the fruit at the angles he wanted, sometimes pushing a onesous or two-sous piece [French coins] under them. You could see from the care he took how much it delighted his eye” (Lallemand, Cézanne, p. 88). But when he began to paint, the picture might change in unusual ways. Cézanne seems to be painting from several different positions at once. He believed that the beauty of the whole painting was more important than anything else—even more important than the correctness of the rendering (Robert Burleigh, Paul Cézanne: A Painter’s Journey [New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2006], p. 18).
Pablo Picasso, born 42 years after Cézanne, said, “My one and only master . . . Cézanne was like the father of us all.” Cézanne is therefore often described as the “father of modern art” (Karen Rosenberg, “Maverick, You Cast a Giant Shadow,” review ofCézanne and Beyond at Philadelphia Museum of Art, New York Times, March 5, 2009, Art and Design section).
- Look carefully at this work. What do you notice?
- What would it be like to bite into one of these peaches? Are they ripe? Do they have an aroma? How might they taste? Write a short paragraph about that experience. Then share it with your classmates. Do you have similar or different ideas?
- The bluish wallpaper with sprays of leaves found in the background of this still life appears in fourteen of Cézanne's still life paintings (John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1 [New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1996], p. 281). What about it might have appealed to Cézanne?.
- Cézanne painted this still life more than a century ago. What aspects of it seem familiar and easily understood? Are there also parts of the painting that are puzzling? What is confusing about them?
- The elements in this painting are simple: a table, white tablecloth, blue ceramic plate, and peaches. Try recreating this still life setup as closely as possible with real objects. Compare your arrangement to Cézanne’s. How are they similar? Describe the areas where Cézanne departed from reality to enhance the impact of the total painting.
generations the training of artists included copying works by
masters. Copy Cézanne’s painting as closely as you can. Then
the still life with real objects and invent a new style to
this setup. What did you learn from each experience?
took great care in setting up the still lifes that he would
paint. He might even adjust the angle of an object by
propping a coin
or two underneath it to slightly change its incline.
Collect and arrange your still life. In choosing the objects consider their formal characteristics: color, form, and texture, as well as their personal meaning to you. Then carefully assemble the objects you selected into an arrangement. When you arrive at a still life setup that pleases you, draw it, paint it, or photograph it.
- In addition to his still life
paintings, Cézanne is also known for
his landscapes and portraits. In
books or on the Internet research
other painting genres that Cézanne
worked in. What are the
similarities and differences in how Cézanne
treated each of these
subjects? Which do you prefer? Why?
- Still life had several advantages for
Cézanne. It was both traditional
and modern. This allowed Cézanne to
build on the achievements
of the past while pursuing his own unique
Forbearers of the still life tradition in France include Jean-Baptise- Simeon Chardin (1699–1779), Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), and éduoard Manet (1832–1883). A younger artist, Pablo Picasso, said, “My one and only master . . . Cézanne was like the father of us all.” Research the still life paintings created by these artists and compare them to Cézanne’s. How did Cézanne build on the achievements of the past? Why do you think Picasso referred to him as the “father of us all”?