Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Viktor von Mutzenbecher, Wiesbaden
Karl Henkell, Wiesbaden (until circa 1929)
French Art Galleries, New York
Alex Hillman Family Foundation (acquired from the above in 1950 and sold: Sotheby’s, New York, November 3, 1993, lot 20)
Robert Schmit, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Zürich, Kunsthaus, Paul Cézanne, 1956, no. 52
Aix-en-Provence, Pavillon de Vendôme, Exposition pour commémorer le cinquantenaire de la mort de Cézanne, 1956, no. 42
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Paul Cézanne, 1956, no. 29
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition: Impressionist and Modern Paintings from Private Collections, 1957
Vienna, Osterreichische Galerie, Oberes Belvedere, Paul Cézanne, 1839-1906, 1961, no. 23, catalogued p. 26 (titled Still life with fruit and dating from circa 1885)
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture from Private Collections, 1966, no. 22
New York, Wildenstein Galleries, Masterpieces, A Memorial Exhibition for Adele R. Levy. Benefit of the Citizens Committee for Children of New York, 1971
Bronx Museum of the Arts, Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, 1972
Laramie, Wyoming, University of Wyoming Art Center, The Hillman Collection, 1972
Jacksonville, Florida, Jacksonville Art Museum; Corpus Christi, Texas, Art Museum of South Texas, The Alex Hillman Collection, 1973, no. 13
Chicago, Smart Gallery, University of Chicago, Fine Works by Modern French Painters from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, 1975
Roslyn, New York, Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts, Modern Masters: Paintings and Drawings from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, 1978, no. 3
Selections from the Collection of the Alex Hillman Foundation, circulated by the American Federation of Arts to American institutions, 1979-1985
New York, Grey Art Gallery and Study Center; Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Art Museum, Cézanne/Léger, 1980
The Brooklyn Museum, Monet and His Contemporaries: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism at the Brooklyn Museum, 1990-91
Paris, Galerie Schmit, Maîtres français, XIXe-XXe siècles, 1994, no. 11
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, on loan (April 2001-October 2002)
Emile Bernard, Souvenirs sur Paul Cézanne, Une conversation avec Cézanne, Paris, 1925, illustrated opposite p. 84
Lionello Venturi, Cézanne, Son Art – Son Oeuvre, Paris, 1936, vol. I, no. 507, catalogued p. 174; vol. II, no. 507, illustrated pl. 156 (titled Nature Morte and as dating circa 1883-87)
Alfonso Gatto and Sandra Orienti, L’Opera Completa di Cézanne, Milan, 1970, no. 475, illustrated
Lionello Venturi, Cézanne, Son Art – Son Oeuvre, San Francisco, 1989, vol. I, no. 507, catalogued p. 174; vol. II, no. 507, illustrated pl. 156 (titled Nature Morte and as dating circa 1883-87)
Emily Braun, The Hillman Family Collection, New York, 1994, no. 6, illustrated p. 47
John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New York, 1996, no. 646, catalogued p. 419; vol. II, no. 646, illustrated p. 217
By the time the present work was executed, circa 1888-90, Cézanne had been painting still-lifes for nearly half his life. During the first decade of his artistic career, Cézanne painted a number of still-lifes of great accomplishment that were romantic in feeling but based on observed reality. Compositions such as Pot vert et bouilloire d’étain, 1867-69 (Rewald, no. 137, see fig. 2) are forceful exercises in a style that can be compared with the realism of painters such as Ribot and Bonvin. Cézanne was never to lose his taste for the humble objects that he favored in his still-lifes of the 1860s. However, during the next two decades, as his pictorial language became more sophisticated, the compositions of his works became increasingly complex. The present painting is a superb example of the mature still-lifes of the late 1880s and 1890s (see figs. 3 and 4) in which an assortment of simple fruits on a table top were transformed into a pictorial statement of remarkable grandeur and sensitivity.
Between 1883 and 1887, Cézanne mainly resided in southern France. In the fall of 1882, he retired to Provence, first to the family manor, Le Jas de Bouffan, outside Aix and then, during that following May, he rented a house and garden in L’Estaque, a little village on the Mediterranean thirty kilometers from Marseilles. He lived there in almost complete isolation, having little contact with his former Impressionist friends with the exception of Renoir, Monet and Monticelli, whom he continued to meet in Marseilles. In 1886, he married Hortense Fiquet, his longtime mistress and mother of his ten-year-old son Paul. In October of that year, Cézanne’s father, from whom he had been estranged, died and left him a sizable fortune. Thereafter he spent part of his time in Paris and the remainder in Aix.
In the eighties, Cézanne detached himself from the Impressionist concept of trying to capture the ephemeral appearance and vibrant atmosphere of a motif. He endeavored "to further develop his sensibility, to discover the law of perspective as linked to color, which enabled him to reproduce his sensations, to remain faithful to nature, and to translate all its richness and space on a piece of canvas. ‘I try to render perspective through color,’ Cézanne later explained. And he added with emphasis: ‘I proceed very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in a very complex form, and constant progress must be made. One must see one’s model correctly and experience it in the right way, and furthermore, express oneself with distinction and strength’" (John Rewald, Cézanne, A Biography, New York, 1986, p. 159).
"Though some of his admirers accused Cézanne of lacking imagination, he showed a superb inventiveness when, using more or less the same objects, he assembled several series of still lifes in which each of these objects plays a completely different role. Without repeating the arrangements, he managed quite to the contrary, to achieve a new balance and a new harmony of colors by shifting the familiar objects and regrouping them in an astonishing variety of compositions" (ibid., p. 181).
In Still Life: Apples and Pears, he has created one of the simplest of his still-life arrangements: six pieces of fruit, one of which is set on a white plate on a wooden table. Unlike some of his earlier works, in which there were faithful transcriptions of the appearance of bureaux, panelling and wallpaper, the emphasis is exclusively on the fruit. Beyond the table surface is only a plain wall. In contrast to later still lifes in which the baroque compositions are constructed with white cloths or colorful drapes, the objects here are set in a classic frontal arrangement repeating the ellipse of the plate. The artist has broken away from conventional perspective by tilting the tabletop and creating a contrasting perspective by tilting the plate at a different angle. These structural distortions are barely perceptible as one concentrates on the richly colored shapes of the fruit. There is also great subtlety in the balance of the alignment of the fruit within the grouping. For example, the stem of the pear at the right creates a slight diagonal projection that the eye follows until the firm horizontal line of the tabletop stops it, and the edge of the pear at the center abuts the table’s edge, emphasizing its containment within the horizontal plane. With these simple and delicate touches, Cézanne has achieved a painting of classic harmony, or as he would say, "distinction and strength."
The enormous care and deliberation that the artist poured into his painting was preceded by the very deliberate process through which he set up the actual objects to be observed and painted. Louis le Bail described how Cézanne composed his arrangements: "…Cézanne arranged the fruits, contrasting the tones one against the other, making the complementaries vibrate, balancing the fruits as he wanted them to be, using coins of one or two sous for the purpose. He brought to this task the greatest care and many precautions; one guessed it was a feast for him. When he finished, Cézanne explained to his young colleague, ‘The main thing is the modeling; one should not even say modeling, but modulating’ " (John Rewald, Cézanne, a Biography, New York, 1986, p. 228). In canvases such as the work under discussion, Cézanne’s careful adjustment and placement of the still-life objects look forward to the spatial ambiguities and perspectival deconstructions of Braque and Picasso at the height of Cubism (see figs. 5 and 6).
Fig. 1, The artist, circa 1880
Fig. 2, Paul Cézanne, Pot vert et bouilloire d'étain, 1867-69, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 3, Paul Cézanne, Pichet et fruits, 1893-94, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 4, Paul Cézanne, Nature morte, assiette et fruits, circa 1890, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 5, Georges Braque, Verre sur la table, January 1909, oil on canvas, The Tate Gallery, London
Fig. 6, Pablo Picasso, Poire et pommes, Autumn 1908, oil on panel, Collection Mr. and Mrs. James W. Alsdorf, Chicago
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