Lot 27
  • 27

Paul Cézanne

7,000,000 - 10,000,000 USD
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  • Paul Cézanne
  • Nature morte
  • Oil on canvas
  • 11 1/8 by 15 7/8 in.
  • 28.3 by 40.5 cm


Ambroise Vollard, Paris

Count Harry Kessler, Weimar (acquired from the above on February 14, 1902)

Galerie Etienne Bignou, Paris

Royan Middelton, Aberdeen

Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York 

Heinz Berggruen, Paris 

Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London

Sale: Sotheby's New York, November 11, 1999, lot 111

Acquired at the above sale 


Berlin, Paul Cassirer, Cézanne – Ausstellung, 1921, no. 39 (titled Apfel und Birne)

Glasgow, Glasgow Art Museum, XIX-XX Century French Painting, 1930, no. 17

London, Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Renoir and the Post-Impressionists, 1930, no. 11

Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy & London, Tate Gallery, Paintings by Cézanne, 1954, no. 41 (dated circa 1887 and with incorrect dimensions)

Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art; Fukuoka, Cultural Center & Kyoto, Municipal Museum, Cézanne, 1974-75, no. 43, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, Acquavella Galleries, XIX and XX Century Master Paintings, 1982, no. 6, illustrated in the catalogue

Tübingen, Kunsthalle & Zurich, Kunsthaus, Cézanne – Gemälde, 1993, no. 57, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Eugenio d’Ors, Paul Cézanne, Paris, 1930, illustrated p. 9

Christian Zervos, “De l’importance de l’objet dans la peinture d’aujourd’hui” in Cahiers d’Art, 1930, no. 7, illustrated p. 115

Gualtieri Di San Lazzaro, Paul Cézanne, Paris, 1936, illustrated fig. 31

Eugenio d’Ors, Paul Cézanne, Paris, 1936, illustrated pl. 31

Lionello Venturi, Cézanne, Son art- son oeuvre, Paris, 1936, vol. I, no. 206, catalogued p. 111; vol. II, no. 206, illustrated pl. 55 (dated circa 1873-77)

Meyer Shapiro, “The Apples of Cézanne, an Essay on the Meaning of Still-Life” in Art New Annual XXXIV, 1968, illustrated p. 52

Alfonso Gatto & Sandra Orienti, L’Opera completa di Cézanne, Milan, 1970, no. 204, illustrated p. 95 (dated 1873-77 and titled Piatto con frutta)

John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, vol. I, no. 677, catalogued p. 433; vol. II, no.677, illustrated p. 232

Bertram Schmidt, Cézannes Lehre, Kiel, 2004, illustrated fig. 84

Pavel Machotka, La Sensation à l’oeuvre, Marseille, 2008, vol. I, illustrated fig. 284; vol. II, catalogued p. 184

Jean Colrat, Cézanne: Joindre les mains errantes de la nature, Paris, 2013, no. 68, illustrated p. 174

Walter Feilchenfeldt, Jayne Warman & David Nash, "Nature morte, c. 1890 (cat. no. 802)." The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné. http://www.cezannecatalogue.com/catalogue/entry.php?id=657 (accessed September 6, 2017)

Catalogue Note

Painted circa 1890, Nature morte encapsulates Cézanne’s artistic achievement, and displays the brilliance and economy which characterize his best work. This strikingly modern composition exemplifies the artist's unrivaled facility with the medium and his ability to imbue a still-life with all of the subtlety and emotional potency of portraiture.

Cézanne’s still-lifes have long been recognized among his greatest achievements, the works which demonstrate most clearly the innovations that led to the stylistic developments of early twentieth-century art. His vision breathed new life into the tradition of still-life painting, and his accomplishments had a profound impact on the generations of artists that followed. Picasso proclaimed that “Cézanne was like the father of us all,” and this statement has remained true to this day, with his painting, particularly still-lifes, continuing to influence artists in the twenty-first century.

Cézanne executed a powerful series of medium-scale still-lifes during the 1880s and 1890s. His depictions of fruit from this period focus on the inherent geometry of objects and explore the spatial challenges of representing three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface. The present work achieves its dynamic composition through a contrast between the rounded shapes of the fruit and the pronounced horizontal of the background and the table-top. Cézanne’s still-life series became increasingly complex, and would culminate in celebrated paintings such as Les Grosses pommes of circa 1890 and Rideau, cruchon et compotier painted in 1893-94.

Cézanne initially approached the genre during the first decade of his artistic production, the 1860s. He executed a number of varied still-lifes, romantic in feeling and based on close observation of reality. In the subsequent decades, his pictorial language became more sophisticated and his compositions more complex. Richard Kendall wrote about Cézanne’s mature paintings: “By this stage in his career, the still-life had taken on a special significance for [Cézanne], and he was to become one of the most original and dedicated exponents of the form. Far from being just a pretext for picture-making, the groups of apples, pears, cherries or flowers were for Cézanne as much a part of nature’s extravagant beauty as the trees and hillsides of Provence, and as likely to produce his ‘vibrating sensations’ as the landscape itself. According to Joachim Gasquet, Cézanne once claimed to overhear conversations between the fruit he was painting, and approached each item in a group as he would a human portrait” (R. Kendall, Cézanne by Himself: Drawings, Paintings, Writings, London, 1988, p. 11).

Nature morte  imparts the full range of expressive potential that Gasquet identified in Cézanne's still-lifes. The apples are constructed through careful geometries and intrusions of bright yellow tones. Cézanne grounds the gentle curves of the fruit with a clear horizon line provided by the table's back edge. He creates a sense of space and volume that gives the fruit a palpable presence - there is an intrinsic logic to the composition wholly unique to Cézanne's artistic vision.

Cézanne’s mature still-lifes are considered the harbingers of twentieth-century Modernism, and provided a key inspiration for the Cubist compositions of Picasso and Braque. As they formulated a new artistic language during the early years of Cubism, these artists were inspired by Cézanne’s radical approach to form. Although Cézanne’s art was well known and widely exhibited during his lifetime, the first major retrospective of his work was held at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1907, a year after his death. This comprehensive view of his oeuvre was an instant inspiration to many artists, including Juan Gris and Henri Matisse. Many of Matisse's still lifes, including examples such as Les Pommes sur la table, sur fond vert of 1916, possess a certain weightlessness of the still life elements and a certain ambiguity in the treatment of space on the table top surface. 

Both art historians and artists have argued that Cézanne reached the very pinnacle of his genius within the genre of still-life. This genre – unlike portrait or plein air painting – allowed him the greatest time in which to capture his subject, since in the studio environment he could create and control the composition, arranging the elements in ways that provided an infinite variety of formal problems to be solved on the canvas. The young painter Louis le Bail described how Cézanne composed a still-life, reflecting the great care and deliberation with which he approached the process: “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’” (quoted in J. Rewald, Cézanne: A Biography, New York, 1986, p. 228).

Discussing Cézanne’s still-life paintings, the English artist and critic Roger Fry noted that he “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 only in 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 for 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 the changes of color correspond to movements of planes. He sought always to trace this correspondence throughout all the diverse modifications which changes of local color introduced into the observed resultant… it is hard to exaggerate their 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 theories of form” (R. Fry, Cézanne: A Study of his Development, Chicago, 1927, pp. 37 & 50).

One of the first owners of Nature morte was Count Harry Kessler. Kessler was a cultural connoisseur whom W. H. Auden referred to as "probably the most cosmopolitan man who ever lived." Involved in many forms of the fine and performing arts, works from his collection are now found in many of the world’s most important institutions, including the Barnes Foundation. He was an earlier supporter and proponent of the works of Edvard Munch, who in turn executed numerous portraits of his patron.