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Painting Modern Life

Explore how early modern artists forged new directions in painting.

Still Life with Apples

Paul Cézanne
(French, 1839–1906)

1898. Oil on canvas, 27 x 36 1/2" (68.6 x 92.7 cm)

With Still Life with Apples, Cézanne demonstrates that still life—considered the lowliest genre of its day—could be a vehicle for faithfully representing the appearance of light and space. “Painting from nature is not copying the object,” he wrote, “it is realizing one’s sensations.”

Cézanne consistently draws attention to the quality of the paint and canvas—never aiming for illusion. For example, the edges of the fruit in the bowl are undefined and appear to shift. Rules of perspective, too, are broken; the right corner of the table tilts forward, and is not aligned with the left side. Some areas of canvas are left bare, and others, like the drape of the tablecloth, appear unfinished. Still Life with Apples is more than an imitation of life—it is an exploration of seeing and the very nature of painting.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

A representation of inanimate objects, as a painting of a bowl of fruit.

Technique used to depict volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface, as in a painted scene that appears to extend into the distance.

A category of artistic practice having a particular form, content, or technique.

Get Some Perspective
Cézanne was fascinated by optics and tried to reduce naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials—the cone, the cube, the sphere. He used layers of color on these shapes to build up surfaces, outlining the forms for emphasis. His deep study of geometry in painting led him to become a master in perspective. Until the end of his life, Cézanne received little public success and was repeatedly rejected by the Paris Salon. In his last years, and particularly after his death, his work began to influence many younger artists, including Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.