PHILADELPHIA, PENN. — From June 22 to September 22, the Barnes Foundation premieres an exhibition of still life paintings by French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne (1839–1906). Ranging from early paintings to very late works, with themes ranging from apples and flowers to skulls, this gathering of 21 paintings reappraises Cézanne’s monumental achievement in the genre.
The exhibition draws from an international roster of public and private collections, including major works from European and American museums, such as the National Gallery (Washington, D.C.), Musée d’Orsay (Paris), Stiftung Langmatt (Baden), Kunstmuseum Solothurn, Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York).
Soon after arriving in Paris in the 1860s, Cézanne became a notorious figure, unprecedented in the history of French art. At the center of his radical self-fashioning were his still lifes of often glaring colors, skewed perspective and thickly painted surfaces that unmoored objects and their meanings from conventional representation. Cézanne established his distinctive style through works such as “Still Life: Flask, Glass and Jug,” circa 1877, and “Apples and Cakes,” 1877, recasting the physical and perceptual relations between people and things.
Extending their traditional meanings as symbols of abundance, vanity or rusticity, Cézanne used apples, skulls or crockery to create a visual language of punning juxtapositions and poetic allusion. His paintings invite viewers to rethink the world and the place of man and objects in it.
As the “Painter of Apples,” Cézanne returned many times to his signature motif, working through the complexities of color application and its effects. Cézanne’s famous apple paintings are represented in the exhibition by three examples: “Seven Apples and a Tube of Color,” “Apples on a Chair” and “Some Apples,” all circa 1878–1880. Also on view, a contrasting pair of flower paintings: “The Dark Blue Vase III,” 1880, is a small-scale, intimate work in which Cézanne explores pattern, while the large “Vase of Flowers” exemplifies Cézanne’s later obsessions with contours and surfaces.
Over the course of his career, Cézanne moved progressively towards a highly structured style of still life painting, characterized by ever more deliberate arrangements of objects. His “classic” phase culminated in the 1890s and is represented in the exhibition by major works like “The Kitchen Table,” circa 1890, and “Fruit and Ginger Pot,” 1890–1893. The latest works in the exhibition are anchored by two important paintings of skulls, “Three Skulls” and “Three Skulls on a Patterned Carpet.”
A prolific artist who synthesized formal problems through a close study of objects, Cézanne’s lifelong engagement with still life yielded what is arguably the most innovative body of work in the genre by any artist in the Western canon. Ultimately, Cézanne set still life painting on a new course, rescuing it from its low position in the academic hierarchy of French painting and prefiguring later compositions of masters from Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol.
The exhibition was organized by the Art Gallery of Hamilton in Ontario, in collaboration with the Barnes Foundation.
The Barnes Foundation is at 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. For information, www.barnesfoundation.org or 215-278-7160.