Cezanne – Still Life

Whether Cezanne painted a head, a mountain, or a piece of fruit on a table, his tendency was to change it into some-thing more colorful, more plain, massive and rhythmic in shape, than it was in nature. He passed through an early impressionist period of specialized interest in bright surface reflections, and is here attempting a new and difficult problem. This is to combine bright impressionist color with the solidity and clear space relations of the old masters. For the latter qualities, he is obviously indebted to Chardin in this picture. But it differs in being more simplified, less realistic in outline and surface texture, as well as more intense and bright in color.

The shadows are not merely darker shades, grayer and browner, of the same hues employed in the highlights. They are definitely contrasting hues: greens, slate-blues and violets, where the highlights are cream, salmon and red. The paint is laid on in fairly distinct, small areas of different tints, as in pure impressionism. But there is this difference: that they are so arranged as to produce an effect of solid modelling, through the tendency of certain colors (especially blue) to recede from the eye, while others (such as red) seem to advance. Still further, the colors are arranged so as to rise from a dull, cool background to a climax of intensity, warmth and richness in a particular spot.

From the standpoint of abstract form, the composition is similar to that of Goya’s Maja Nude. In both cases the picture is divided into three main sections: in one, a wall, a draped couch, a nude figure; in the other a wall with chest of drawers, a draped tablecloth with other objects, and a group of apples. In both the three main sections are concentric, the function of the first two being to push forward the third, and lead up to it as a climax of solidity and color-power.

Here the climax is in the apples near the center. They are hard, round balls of flaming red and yellow, blended with the utmost richness, and set off by intense dark green shadows. Around them is a secondary cluster of masses — dishes and table-cloth folds. These are intermediate in accent, both as to color and solidity. They form an irregular scatter of planes at different angles, repeating roughly a triangular and an S-shaped theme. They are less vigorously rounded than the apples, and are colored in duller, cooler tints of gray-blue, yellow and green. The background is lowest in key, and recedes unobtrusively. It consists of a table, a chest of drawers and a bit of wallpaper, which quietly echo the shapes of the objects on the table. S-curves appear in the wall-paper; balls and ellipses in the drawer-pulls and key-holes; angles in the boards of the table. Except for the flowered paper, they are all in broad, dull sheets of rather uniform greenish brown and ochre.

Free irregularities and breaks in symmetry keep the de-sign from being obvious. It flows from part to part with casual ease, yet each part clicks into place with inevitable rhythm. In a precisely analogous way, Cezanne builds up the trees and slopes of a landscape, or the features and garments of a portrait, into an organized design that rises to a climax in some ruddy flesh-tint or iridescent rock.