Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Bruno Cassirer, Berlin and Oxford (by 1921)
Private Collection, England (by descent from the above and sold: Christie's, London, June 28, 2000, lot 10)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Vollard, Paul Cézanne, 1895
(possibly) Berlin, Paul Cassirer, Cézanne-Ausstellung, 1921, no. 35
Zürich, Kunsthaus, Französische Malerei des XIX. Jahrhunderts, 1933, no. 87
London, National Gallery (on loan from 1977)
Essen, Museum Folkwang, Cézanne Aufbruch in die Moderne, 2004-05
(possibly) Thadée Natanson, La Revue blanche, December 1, 1895, Paris, p. 498
Emile Bernard, Kunst und Künstler, Leipzig, 1908, illustrated p. 186
Karl Scheffler, Talente, Berlin, 1921, illustrated opposite p. 24
Lionello Venturi, Cézanne, son art – son oeuvre, vol. I, Paris, 1936, no. 596, catalogued p. 194; vol. II, no. 596, illustrated pl. 193 (titled Nature morte and as dating from 1890-94)
Alfonso Gatto and Sandra Orienti, L'Opera completa di Cézanne, Milan, 1970, no. 785, illustrated p. 122
Richard Kendall, Cézanne by himself, drawings, paintings, writings, London, 1988, illustrated p. 186 (titled Still life with apples and melons)
John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, London, 1996, no. 802, catalogued p. 481; vol. II, no. 802, illustrated p. 276 (titled Nature morte)
Christopher Baker and Tom Henry, The National Gallery: Complete Illustrated Catalogue, London, 1995, illustrated p. 108
Cézanne’s magnificent Nature morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre is a feast for the senses. All of the elements of the composition are fresh and enticing, and Cézanne invites us to savor them as he leads our eye across the canvas. The soft, cornflower blue highlights of the tablecloth and the earthenware jar, the mix of deep greens, plums and ultramarines in background, and the juicy, vermillion pulp of the cut melons all evoke the tastes and smells of a late summer harvest. We can even see that the apples, still bearing their stems and leaves, have just been picked. This glorious picture dates from 1895, when Cézanne's radical experimentations with perspective and color were at their most sophisticated. His still-lifes of this period focus on the inherent geometry of objects and explore the spatial problems of representing three-dimensional form. Cézanne’s approach breathed new life into the time-honored tradition of still life painting at the turn of the century, and his aesthetic accomplishments would have a profound impact on artists for generations to come.
Cézanne’s still-lifes, particularly those completed in the mid-1890s, are considered the harbingers of 20th century modernism, and their influence was the driving force behind the Cubist compositions of Braque and Picasso (see fig. 1). Even while he was working with the Impressionists in the 1870s and 1880s, Cézanne demonstrated the promise and brilliant vision that would emerge in his paintings of the 1890s. Writing about the still-lifes from these early years, the British critic Roger Fry noted that Cézanne “is distinguished among artists of the highest rank by the fact that he devoted so large a part of his time to this class of picture, that he achieved in still-life the expression of the most exalted feelings and the deepest intuitions of his nature. Rembrandt alone, and that only the rarest examples, or in accessories, can be compared to him in this respect. For one cannot deny that Cézanne gave a new character to his still-lifes. Nothing else but still-life allowed him sufficient calm and leisure, and admitted all the delays which were necessary to him plumbing the depths of his idea. But there, before the still-life, put together not with too ephemeral flowers, but with onions, apples, or other robust and long-enduring fruits, he could pursue till it was exhausted his probing analysis of the chromatic whole. But through the bewildering labyrinth of this analysis he held always like Ariadne’s thread, the notion that changes of colour correspond to movements of planes. He sought always to trace this correspondence throughout all the diverse modifications which changes of local colour introduced into the observed resultant…it is hard to exaggerate their (still-life’s) importance in the expression of Cézanne’s genius or the necessity of studying them for its comprehension, because it is in them that he appears to have established his principles of design and his theories of form” (Roger Fry, Cézanne: A Study of his Development, Chicago, 1927, pp. 37 and 50).
As avant-garde as this painting was for its day, Nature morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre finds its origins in the trompe-l’oeil compositions of the French old masters that Cézanne had studied at the Louvre (see fig. 2). Much like his forbearers, Cézanne set out to capture the essence and allure of each object in his still-lifes. But his approach was rooted in a truly modern belief that "Painting does not mean slavishly copying the object: It means perceiving harmony amongst numerous relationships and transposing them into a system of one's own by developing them according to a new, original logic" (Paul Cézanne, quoted in Richard Kendall, op. cit., p. 298).
The ginger jar depicted in the present work was an object that appeared in several of Cézanne's compositions from the 1890s, including the Metropolitan Museum's Nature morte, pot de gingembre et aubergines (see fig. 3) and the Barnes Collection's Le vase paillé (see fig. 4). But Cézanne's recurrent use of the objects in his studio (see fig. 5) never resulted in repetitive compositions. "It is amazing to see how the artist continued to develop new picture ideas out of the same materials," Götz Adriani observed. For Nature morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre he took the time to arrange these objects so that they presented optimal challenges for his painting. He overwhelms the table top with round, bulbous objects and a generously gathered cloth that drapes over its edge. All of the fruits appear to be spilling off the cloth and into the foreground, but the vessel in the left corner anchors them all on the surface of the table. Cézanne delighted in depicting contradictory perspectives, and his achievements to this end were the catalysts for the development of Cubism and even the colorful studio paintings of Matisse a decade later.
Writing forty years after Roger Fry and from a considerably different viewpoint, Meyer Schapiro summarized the importance of the still-life in Cézanne's oeuvre: "Not only in the importance of still-life in general for Cézanne's art, but also in his persistent choice of apples we sense a personal trait. If he achieved a momentary calm through these carefully considered, slowly ripened paintings, it was not in order to prepare for a higher effort. These are major works, often of the same complexity and grandeur as his most impressive landscapes and figure compositions. The setting of the objects, the tables and drapes, sometimes suggest a large modeled terrain, and tones of the background wall have the delicacy of Cézanne's skies... Still-life engages the painter (and also the observer who can surmount the habit of casual perception) in a steady looking that discloses new and elusive aspects of the stable object. At first commonplace in appearance, it may become in the course of that contemplation a mystery, a source of metaphysical wonder. Completely secular and stripped of all conventional symbolism, the still-life object, as the meeting-point of boundless forces of atmosphere and light, may evoke a mystical mood like Jakob Boehme's illumination through the glint on a metal ewer" (Meyer Schapiro, "The Apples of Cézanne – An essay on the meaning of Still-life," Art News Annual, XXIV, 1968, p. 44).
In Ambroise Vollard's stockbook, this work was recorded as no. 3881 [A] Table chargé de petit melon -- dans une assiette plusieurs tranches un pot de grès fond gris bleu 46 by 61 . Nature Morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre remained in one private collection for decades and today is one of the last great still-lifes left in private hands. Fig. 1, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, Cut melon and other fruit, circa 1760, oil on canvas, Musée de Louvre, Paris
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Le Bock, oil on canvas, 1909, Musée d'Art Moderne du Nord, Villeneuve d'Ascq
Fig. 3, Paul Cézanne, Nature morte, pot de gingembre et aubergines, 1893-94, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fig. 4, Paul Cézanne, Le vase paillé, circa 1895, oil on canvas, The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania
Fig. 5, Objects, including the ginger jar, that Cézanne used for his still-life compositions. Photograph by John Rewald, circa 1935
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