Paul CEZANNE (1839-1906)
See also : Painting France Art on paper Landscape Midi Tabletop
Chronology : 19th century 1880-1889 1885 1887 1888 1890-1899 1890 1895 1902
2021 SOLD for $ 55M by Christie's
L'Estaque is one of his first choices, prompted by memories from his youth when his mother had rented a cottage for summer holidays. From the top of the hill and beyond the houses, the bay and the islands of Marseille offer a vast and sumptuous panorama.
In the early 1880s Cézanne rents a small house in L'Estaque, away from his family left to live in Aix. He works outdoor like the Impressionnistes, but his synthetic and cloisonné analysis of shapes and colors is paving the way for the 20th century art. He is already meticulously in quest of the perfection of colors in their whole range. He manages to provide to the viewer a sensation instead of a mere copy of the landscape.
Painted in that early phase between 1883 and 1885, L'Estaque aux toits rouges is a significant demonstrator of these fertile experiments. In this panoramic view from the top of the hill, the contrast is striking between the geometric pattern of sun bathed houses with no shadow and the blue hues of sky and sea.
This oil on canvas 65 x 81 cm was sold for $ 55M from a lower estimate of $ 35M by Christie's on November 11, 2021, lot 10C. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
A view boldly enclosing the same panorama in a vertical format, oil on canvas 73 x 60 cm painted in 1885, was sold for £ 13.5M by Christie's on February 4, 2015, lot 8.
These pictures had a direct influence on the development of the Cubisme by Braque.
1888-1890 Montagne Sainte-Victoire
2022 SOLD for $ 138M by Christie's
The view on the Montagne Sainte-Victoire is magnificent from his new home. The mountain is standing out alone in a nearly symmetrical shape on the horizon. Desiring now to develop his art conceptions in seclusion, Paul takes it as a regular theme, sometimes framed by a large pine in the foreground.
New pictorial experiments are beginning. Cézanne manages to give up the optical truth of the Impressionnistes. The landscape becomes an orderly construction of geometrical shapes, providing the emotional sensation of another reality.
An oil on canvas 65 x 80 cm painted in 1888 or slightly later displays the dominating Montagne is all its purity, surrounded by the countryside without its real foreground of olive trees, roads and houses.
The flattened geometric mountain is colored in a range of soft blues, lilacs and white in an unprecedented balance of myriads of brush strokes. The underlined horizon are resolutely geometrical. Indeed impressionism and photography could not display such a powerful effect.
This painting was sold for $ 38.5M by Phillips, de Pury and Luxembourg on May 7, 2001, lot 5, and for $ 138M by Christie's on November 9, 2022, lot 14. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
The reality of the canceled foreground disturbed the artist. From 1902 his workshop at Les Lauves provides every morning to the aging artist the global view of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire as he had dreamed it in the 1880s, nevertheless with a loss in the symmetry of the peak..
Tabletop (oil painting)
Painting is the only possible medium for his interpretation of life, because it allows color harmonies. The laws of the perspective itself are not untouchable. Impressionism does not go far enough.
Emile Zola has certainly appreciated the depth of Cézanne's theories and his difficulties in sharing them. In his novel L'Oeuvre published in 1886, he stages a misunderstood painter whose idealistic passion leads to failure. A later letter from Cézanne to Zola, recently found, contradicts the legend of their breakup. Cézanne was obviously too soaked in his research to be indignant at the concern of his college friend.
On February 27, 2019, Christie's sold for £ 21M as lot 6 a still life of fruit, oil on canvas 38 x 46 cm painted in the mid 1880s. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
The theme is modest and the composition is minimalist. On a rustic table without any ornament in a slightly plunging perspective, a plate contains five peaches and a pear. Another pear is placed to the right of the plate. The subtle variety of fruit color is not however the main subject of this experiment.
If the plate is placed flat on the table, its perfect circle is impossible. It is therefore inclined, at the limit of the imbalance of the fruit pyramid. Cézanne knew that realism does not exist in painting : nature is too complex to be imitated and the surface of the canvas does not allow an illusion of real space.
A probably later work gives the key to the enigma : now viewed in profile, the plate is actually tilted. This 28 x 40 cm oil on canvas was sold for $ 8.1M by Sotheby's on November 14, 2017, lot 27.
Many years later, Matisse tries an axiom according to which Cézanne was too perfectionist to make a mistake. He thus discovers the de-construction of perspective in the most seemingly simplistic still lifes by Cézanne, an artist too far ahead of his own time.
1888-1890 Bouilloire et Fruits
2019 SOLD for $ 59M by Christie's
A still life from that phase was sold for £ 21M by Christie's in 2019. The composition seems naively simple until we perceive the imbalance of the plate. The observer awaits the tilting that will roll the fruit onto the table.
The artist will then increase the complexity. Bouilloire et fruits, oil on canvas 49 x 60 cm painted between 1888 and 1890, offers the dynamic contrast between a heavy pot steadily placed on the table and the fruits in a precarious balance in the folds of the tablecloth.
Cézanne reworked each painting tirelessly, seeking a perfection that existed only in his own imagination. Sometimes he stops before it is finished. The handle and the body of the kettle are disjointed. A lemon or an apple that did not suit the artist left some traces without disappearing completely.
It does not matter: the variety of forms and the mingling of the colors that constitute the textures are already satisfactory. Cézanne accepts to sell this unfinished work to a collector.
Bouilloire et fruits was sold for £ 18M by Sotheby's on December 7, 1999 and for $ 59M by Christie's on May 13, 2019, lot 18A. Please watch the very short video shared by the auction house.
Painted in 1893 with a similar inspiration, Rideau, cruchon et compotier, oil on canvas 60 x 73 cm, was sold for $ 60M by Sotheby's in 1999. The fruit bowl is not placed on the table.
1889-1890 Les Pommes
2013 SOLD for $ 42M by Sotheby's
Cézanne plays with apples like an infant with cubes. Fruits are grouped within small uneven piles in which their variety of colors brings an additional appeal. Sometimes a group is interrupted by the frame as if the row of fruit was unlimited.
If we consider that the real subject is the painting itself and not the appealing fruit, Cézanne's apples anticipate abstract art. His still life puzzles the viewer by its original composition, as if it tried to tell a story or to evoke a feeling, like Kandinsky and Miro later. Each individual element is however realistic like an image by Chardin.
The group of apples for sale at Sotheby's on May 7, 2013 is both simple and bold. This oil on canvas 38 x 46 cm painted in 1889-1890 was sold for $ 42M from a lower estimate of $ 25M, lot 7. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
Pommes et poires, in the same technique and size as Les Pommes, is certainly an opportunity to vary the range of colors. It was sold for $ 20M by Sotheby's in 2021.
Sold for $ 60M by Sotheby's in 1999, another composition, 60 x 73 cm, painted four years later is more ambitious. The folds of the white tablecloth generate a complex interplay of fruit, the pitcher is the referee and the curtain states that the still lifes of Cézanne are indeed dramas.
1890-1894 Les Grosses Pommes
1993 SOLD for $ 28.6M by Sotheby's
The elliptic tabletop supports a dish with six apples in three rows, a porcelain cup on its saucer, a rectangular mirror and two smaller apples one of which is half out of field. Two of the big apples look unbalanced at the rim of the dish. A chimney, a medallion and a wind instrument are inserted in the back wall.
1893 Fruits et Pot de Gingembre
2023 SOLD for $ 39M by Christie's
The danger for a fruit to fall from the table is created by the folds of the crumpled cloth over the edge of the table. A typical example from the end of that period is the Rideau, cruchon et compotier 60 x 73 cm sold for $ 60M by Sotheby's in 1999.
A smaller example is Fruits et pot de gingembre, oil on canvas 33 x 46 cm staging three apples, one pear, one pomegranate and a ginger pot. The position of the isolated golden apple on the white cloth is inviting for an imminent fall. This painting was sold for $ 39M by Christie's on November 9, 2023, lot 41 B.
A similar example is the pear ready to fall in the Nature morte au crâne owned by the Barnes Foundation. The group of fruits on the right side also have an unsafe position.
1893-1894 Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier
1999 SOLD for $ 60M by Sotheby's
Cézanne no longer needs his art to earn a living and does not date his works. The chronology of his still lifes can only be based on the evolution of their complexity. His vision weakened by a diabetes identified in 1890 may have prompted him to seek these new solutions.
He tirelessly changes the position of the same objects, with the same varieties of fruit, seeking the extreme limit of balance. It is only by a very careful inspection that the observer discovers that a dish is not placed on the top of the table but bent over a hidden support.
The crumpled white tablecloth becomes an essential element of the composition, bringing the impression of the imminent fall of the objects and fruits that are placed on it. The arrangements are becoming increasingly complex.
In 1893 or 1894, Cézanne painted two similar compositions, with the same jug and stemcup on the same table, and the same curtain.
Pichet et fruits sur une table is less dramatic because it does not include the tablecloth. The visual confusion is brought by the cup whose real position in relation to the table is not discernible because it is half hidden by the pitcher. This oil on paper 42 x 72 cm was sold for £ 11.8M by Sotheby's on February 3, 2010.
Rideau, cruchon et compotier dangerously distributes the fruits in the folds of the tablecloth. The cup, with a spectacular stacking of fruit, is here hidden behind a rise in the tablecloth. All this will fall to the ground in a few moments. This oil on canvas 60 x 73 cm was sold for $ 60M by Sotheby's on May 10, 1999. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
La Corbeille de pommes, oil on canvas 65 x 80 cm kept at the Art Institute of Chicago, illustrates similar conceptions : the lower part of the cup is hidden by some fruit. Here the very tilted position of the basket is partially explained by a thick wedge whose usefulness in real life is questionable.
1895 Fruits et Pot de Gingembre
2006 SOLD for $ 37M by Sotheby's
There is no still life by Cézanne for a few years from 1880. He restarts the theme around 1886, when he starts in Gardanne a new life that excites his creativity. This is the trompe-l'oeil phase, with a quest for the unbalance that manages to simulate a motion.
The trompe-l'oeil phase comes to an end in 1895. Afterward the still lifes become rarer for several years, mostly characterized by the addition of skulls. His creativity restarts once again at Les Lauves, when the still life participates to his obsession for the perfect color and luminosity.
Nature morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre is a masterpiece from the end of the trompe-l'oeil phase. Its terminus ante quem is its exhibition by Vollard in 1895, soon after its execution.
An interesting feature of this opus is the deep ultramarine underlining of the elements, reminding the underlining of the horizon of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire. A cut melon brings an unusual and much juicy freshness in its two parts, just open on the left side plus two slices on a plate at the central point of the still life. The symphony of rare colors includes intricate gradations from yellow to red.
This oil on canvas 46 x 61 cm was sold for £ 12M by Christie's on June 28, 2000, lot 10, and for $ 37M by Sotheby's on November 7, 2006, lot 18.
2022 SOLD for $ 42M by Sotheby's
As for landscapes he tirelessly revisited the same themes : the wide open scenery of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire and the closed views of woods and glades.
This phase reached its culmination in large formats around 1895 in an unusually reductive palette of blue, green and ochre in various intensities.
Clairière, oil on canvas 100 x 81 cm, flattens the perspective. De-accessioned from the Toledo Museum of Art, it was sold for $ 42M from a lower estimate of $ 30M by Sotheby's on May 17, 2022, lot 16. The image is shared by Wikimedia. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1902-1906 Pot au Lait, Melon et Sucrier
2020 SOLD for $ 28.7M by Christie's
He is a perfectionist of geometric projection. The paper is flat but the fruits are volumes that the light reaches through their middle. Breakfast utensils, such as a teapot or sugar bowl, are also convex.
The work begins with a drawing of the outlines on a sheet of paper. Each surface is filled with colors that reflect the lighting zones without overlapping. This phase should be intermediate but Cézanne is never satisfied : the finished product, which is oil on canvas, becomes scarce. His rare visitors, like Emile Bernard, are disconcerted by the complexity and slowness of his creative process. His reinterpretation of nature is so innovative that he creates modern art.
On October 6, 2020, Christie's sold as lot 13 for $ 28.7M a still life in watercolor and gouache made in the largest paper size used by the artist, 48 x 62 cm. The focal point is the green melon, with its bright color and its central position in the image. It is however placed on the other side of the table, partially hidden by the milk jug and the sugar bowl.
Also from the last period of Cézanne, a Nature morte au melon vert is another close-up still life similarly focused on a green melon behind a goblet. This watercolor and pencil 32 x 48 cm was sold for $ 25.5M by Sotheby's on May 8, 2007, lot 8.
'The greatest Cézanne watercolour to be offered in decades' — #Cézanne's Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon et sucrier from the collection of Edsel & Eleanor Ford House will be offered in the 20th Century Evening Sale on 6 October in New York: https://t.co/gJGcA3KMtr pic.twitter.com/Ss3mrhbAH9— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) August 30, 2020
1906 Les Grandes Baigneuses
Philadelphia Museum of Art
In 1901 he opens a studio in the hills. In front of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire he tries to extract from the landscape the fundamental geometries accentuated by the varied colors of his palette.
In parallel with this tireless activity as a landscape artist, Cézanne reworks his traditional theme of the outdoor Baigneuses in oils on canvases that now reach large formats. Refusing that his colors intermingle, he disregards the realistic figuration and anticipates cubism. At his death in October 1906 three paintings are unfinished. One of them 210 x 250 cm is preserved at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The bathers are divided into groups in a surrounding of trees. The center opens onto the landscape. Bodies, leaves and mountain are drawn in undifferentiated lines, leaving to the harmony of colors all the emotional power in this artwork. Having started from Impressionism and now reaching Expressionism, Cézanne is one of the deepest innovators in the history of art.