In Focus

Paul Cezanne's Still Life with Apples on a Sideboard

Still Life with Apples on a Sideboard (1900-1906) is one of Paul Cezanne's most sumptuous and satisfying watercolors. It is a large work—19

1/8 by 24 7/8 inches—with a complex visual content that includes a sideboard with drawer, apples, a plate and knife, a wine bottle, and a jug and ginger pot. The overall composition has a kind of baroque splendor, with the objects orchestrated into a curvaceous garland-like form. The colors are jubilant—yellow and gold, reds and russets, blues and shades of purple, with hues of brown and green. The most striking, even breathtaking, impression derives from the sense of splendid light that seems to permeate and radiate from the work. We are reminded of the integral importance of the water color medium to Cezanne's career. The stretches of primed canvas—the significance of the unfinished in his work—are unthinkable without his continuous exploration of watercolor.

The fluidity and facility of Cezanne's technique are fascinating. Close examination reveals the translucent slabs of pure color and the deft manipulation of the passages of untouched white paper. Light, fragmentary brush strokes create a powerful sense of spontaneity and airiness. The floral pattern that decorates the white pitcher, the fluted edge of the vessel's mouth and curvilinear handle, as well as the full, rounded forms of the ginger pot and fruit contribute to the lyrical complexity.

The fruit itself has a special quality. In contrast to the insubstantial pale yellow sideboard and background wall, the fruit possesses a sense of solidity and density. Its quality far outstrips that of the ordinary still-life object. This has less to do with realism than with Cezanne's careful contemplation of the object in nature, exemplifying the self-conscious deliberateness of his craft.

In his 1963 essay "Cezanne as a watercolorist," Meyer Schapiro described the fascination with the artist's watercolors: "They permit us to dwell in the intimacy of Cezanne's sensing of a pictorial aptness in things; we experience ... his attentiveness, his fine hesitations and scruples, his delicacy of touch, his anxious trial of sensations—the traits of an honestly receptive mind... In watercolor are realized more distinctly the light and tender in his own being." [1] Schapiro sees a personal or moral quality in Cezanne's paintings work: he describes as full of seriousness and deliberateness, struggle, maturity, honesty, and "heroism."? [2]

This watercolor is one of three important works by Cezanne in the Dallas Museum of Art's Wendy and Emery Reves Collection. The collection also includes an early still life from 1879-1880, Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange, a painting of modest scale characterized by an aesthetic, almost severe, economy. The center of the composition is dominated by four objects—a glass carafe, a metal jug or canister, a decorated white ceramic bowl, and an emphatically spherical orange. The painter obviously relished the different shapes, colors, and materials of the objects. The brilliant orange of the fruit offers a dazzling relief to the otherwise muted or subdued palette of browns, grays, and dark blues. The densely painted center of the work contrasts with the unfinished passages at left and right, where the unpainted canvas is visible through the thin layers of paint. The crumpled white cloth at lower right is rendered as a curiously opaque abstract

form, a virtual mountain of cloth. The left third of the painting is, by contrast, diaphanous and ill-defined. The curling plant-like tendrils (presumably an element of a patterned wallpaper at Cezanne's Paris apartment at 67, rue de l'Ouest) float in a painterly nothingness.

This tension between transparency and density characterizes, too, the third Cezanne in the Reves Collection, Abandoned House near Aix en-__Provence (1885- 1887). The blocky mass of the decrepit house stands in stark contrast to the thinly painted film of flickering brushstrokes by which Cezanne constructs the bands of surrounding landscape. It is particularly ironic that a foreign hand sought to "improve" the work, painting over a portion of the sky to render the work more "finished."

The three Cezannes in the Reves Collection represent different sides of the artist's complex personality: the baroque splendor of the late still life contrasts with the subdued discipline of almost twenty-five years earlier, as well as with the mysterious emptiness of Cezanne's Provenҫal landscape.

[1] Meyer Schapiro, Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries (New York: George Braziller, 1978), 44-45.

[2] Ibid., 39-41.

Excerpt from

Dorothy Kosinski, “Paul Cezanne's Still Life with Apples on a Sideboard,” in Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years, ed. Dorothy M. Kosinski (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), Pamphlet number 56.

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