Nature morte avec carafe, bidon de lait, bol et orange (1879-1880)

Cézanne, Paul (1839-1906)

Nature morte avec carafe, bidon de lait, bol et orange (Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange)
Oil on canvas, 26.99 × 34.93 × 1.91 cm
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas

Paul Cézanne was the greatest painter of still life in the 19th century. His only rival as a still-life painter in the history of French art was the 18th-century painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, whose works Cézanne admired throughout his life. This small still life in the Reves Collection has a double identity – its scale suggests a drawing, but its medium and degree of finish belie its modest dimensions. Cézanne made the painting along with a group of three other closely related still lifes (L’Orangerie, Paris; Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Cincinnati Art Museum). All four were done in the same room with the same still-life elements at the same moment in the artist’s career. Most of these paintings are small, and all of them include one or more of the three vessels that form the motif of the Reves still life. These are a glass carafe (perhaps for vinegar or wine), a metal jug (for milk or water), and a ceramic bowl. These vessels were selected because they contrast in every way: one transparent, two opaque; one closed, two open; one matte, two shiny; one horizontal, two vertical; one glass one metal, one ceramic; one a cylinder, one an elongated sphere, the last a half-sphere; one dark, one light, and the last colorless. These still-life elements present a challenge to the painter and the viewer alike in their contrast, which is set into visual and conceptual relief by a single fruit: in the Reves still life, a perfectly spherical orange that just touches the metal jug and the ceramic bowl. The fruit is at once utterly “natural” in its origins and utterly artificial in its exoticism. It warms and enlivens a still life that is predominantly cold and gray. There has been a good deal of disagreement in the prodigious Cézanne literature about the date of this small painting; hypotheses vary from 1877 to 1885. The most persuasive analysis was made by the great English art historian Lawrence Gowing (Gowing 1956). He used both the style of the closely related paintings and the wallpaper in the background to pinpoint the location at which they were painted as Cézanne‘s Paris apartment at 67, rue de L’Ouest, where he worked in 1877 and again in 1879. Gowing then differentiated between two distinct stylistic groups and dated the group of works in which the Reves still life belongs to the earlier year. Like the majority of Cézanne‘s paintings, this still life was left in its current unfinished state by the painter. It was executed on a preprimed canvas of unusual dimensions, and in many areas on both the left and right sides of the composition the primed canvas shines through the thin layers of paint. Cézanne seems to have been most concerned with the center section of the painting, particularly with the relationships among the orange, the jug, and the bowl. Indeed, the interior of the ceramic bowl is as perfectly realized a passage of paint as any in Cézanne‘s career, its white glaze contrasting completely with the flat black of the adjacent metal jug. Connoisseurs of painting had to wait two generations until the great Italian painter Morandi investigated still-life effects with equal modesty and expertise. The Reves “Still Life” was given to the Museum of Modern ArtNew York, by the great collector Lillie Bliss at her death in 1931, and was sold in 1950 by the museum, whose collection commences with later paintings by Cézanne. Emery Reves acquired it in 1955. “Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection,” pages 64-65. (DMA)