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Paul Cézanne Still Life with Apples and Oranges
Still Life with Apples and Oranges, painted by Paul Cézanne in 1899, is one of the most enduring still life studies in the history of modern art, revealing the artist at the top of his craft. This eloquent and quietly revolutionary canvas would come to influence countless modernist painters from Pissarro to Matisse, and from Gauguin to Braque. What catches the viewer's eye at first glance is the astonishing abundance of fruit, and this same feature also caught the attention of one of the formative thinkers in twentieth-century art, the historian Meyer Schapiro whose theoretical text “The Apples of Cezanne: An Essay on the Meaning of Still-life” has become a seminal work in art criticism. The question raised in the mind of the casual viewer with even a scant familiarity with other still life paintings is why is there such a proliferation of fruit? Cézanne's Still Life with Apples and Oranges appears to resonate with the sense and sentience of the fruit, providing an excess, a surplus of the daily commodity.
The canvas is part of a series of six still lifes executed in 1899 in the Paris studio of Cezanne, each recalling the Flemish still lifes of the seventeenth century. But the dynamic effect created by the complex spatial construction and perception of the depicted objects emphasizes the subjective approach primarily in the pictorial realm of Cezanne. From the first exhibition of the independent Impressionist movement in 1874, French painting had enjoyed a seismic shift in focus; from bombastic Neoclassical or history paintings the tide turned towards nature, capturing the reflections and effects of light within a specific atmosphere. Cézanne inherited this tradition of painting from life without any underdrawing or advanced sketching. The result is a distinct fragmentation of the spatial plane and a remarkably tangible effect of presence.
In Still Life with Apples and Oranges Cézanne seems to stop short of a number of aesthetic intentions, imbuing the work with an unfinished and sentient feeing. For the artist the overabundance of fruit is the height of poetic sensation, taking an object in a small size and, rather than studying in up close, filling the canvas with the distant impression of many. Staged against white linen and billowing fabric that forms a cleft valley offset by the usual still life features, Cézanne's stunning and iconic canvas is a work of poetic fusion that turns the ubiquitous items of the everyday into a mountainous terrain.
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