Cézanne's life-long fascination with the genre of still-life reached its pinnacle in a group of paintings executed in the 1890s, of which Pichet et fruits sur une table is a supreme example. More clearly, perhaps, than in any other subject, it is possible to trace the development of Cézanne's style in his still-lifes, since he could create and control the composition in the studio environment, arranging the elements in ways that provided an infinite variety of formal variations to be explored in the painting. The still-lifes of the early 1880s were mostly solid and compact, the spatial relationships of the depicted objects conveyed in a dense network of thickly-painted 'constructive strokes', but by the latter part of the decade and the early 1890s the artist began to abandon strict frontality in favour of more complex spatial arrangements, resulting in more dramatic compositions such as the present work.
Both the earthenware pitcher, which dominates in the present composition, and the patterned blue cloth to the left, appear in a number of Cézanne's still-lifes of this period. In each work, however, Cézanne viewed the materials at his disposal as if for the first time, arranging them in unexpected ways, changing proportions and establishing formal and spatial relationships that resulted in paintings of unprecedented variety and interest. The present work is most closely related to Rideau, cruchon et compotier, a painting of the same date, formerly in the Collection of Mr & Mrs John Hay Whitney, New York (fig. 1). The main difference between the two compositions is the exclusion of the white cloth in the present work. Instead, the objects are arranged directly on the wooden table-top, the rounded forms of the fruit, plate and jug creating a dynamic contrast against the flatness of the table, its angular shape and straight lines.
Writing about the Whitney picture, Isabelle Cahn observed: 'Here, the painter has placed a white faience compotier, a gray-blue glazed stoneware jug, and a carefully arranged white tablecloth on a simple wooden table that anchors the composition. On the left appears a blue drapery that is also found in several still lifes. Vollard recognized it (or perhaps another material familiar to him from the artist's work) in the Aix studio: "Close to the window hung a curtain that had always served as a background for portraits and still lifes." Fruit of various kinds – lemons, apples, pears, oranges – has been heaped in a pyramid in a compotier, nestled into the folds of the tablecloth, or placed directly on the wooden table, the vibrant colors contrasting starkly with the muted palette of the rest of the painting. [...] Volumes are described by directional brushstrokes that leave a discernible weave on the surface. The uniform back wall is also rendered in a multitude of blended brownish red, brownish green, and violet strokes. This patient evocation of modelling by means of color enabled Cézanne to imbue the motif with luminosity in the absence of artificial illumination. No shadows are cast on the wall, and each object radiates an individual clarity' (I. Cahn, in Cézanne (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1995-96, pp. 383-384).
The present work, Pichet et fruits sur une table, differs markedly from the other compositions centred on the earthenware jug, both in format and in the character of the paint surface itself. One of the most lyrical of the great still-lifes of the early 1890s, the relatively elongated format of the painting allowed Cézanne to space out the jug, plate and fruit horizontally. The blue patterned drapery, rather than establishing a forceful rhythm for the entire composition as it does in Nature morte aux aubergines of 1893-94 (fig. 2) and La Bouteille de menthe of 1893-95 (fig. 3), draws attention to the left portion of the canvas. It seems to weigh down the left edge of the table, warping it and distorting the perspective. Rather than suggesting the confines of a room, the subtly modulated background which ranges in hue from soft pinks and mauves to cooler blues and greens, opens up the space, so much so that the dish of fruit appears weightless behind the jug.
Cézanne's still-lifes have long been recognised as being among his greatest achievements, the works which demonstrate most clearly the innovations that led to the stylistic developments of early twentieth-century modern art. Both art historians and artists have argued that Cézanne reached the very pinnacle of his genius within the discipline of the still-life, as this genre – unlike portrait or plein air painting – allowed him the greatest time in which to capture his subject. The young painter Louis le Bail described how Cézanne composed a still-life, reflecting the great care and deliberation with which he approached the process: 'Cézanne arranged the fruits, contrasting the tones one against the other, making the complementaries vibrate, balancing the fruits as he wanted them to be, using coins of one or two sous for the purpose. He brought to this task the greatest care and many precautions; one guessed it was a feast for him. When he finished, Cézanne explained to his young colleague, "The main thing is the modeling; one should not even say modeling, but modulating"' (quoted in J. Rewald, op. cit., 1986, p. 228).
The present work has a remarkable provenance. During Cézanne's lifetime, it was acquired by the prominent Dutch collector Cornelis Hoogendijk (1867-1911), who gathered a large number of Old Masters and modern works, and assembled one of the most important collections in the Netherlands and beyond at the turn of the twentieth century. In a buying frenzy that lasted between 1897 and 1899, he acquired over thirty paintings and watercolours by Cézanne from Ambroise Vollard. Some years after Hoogendijk's death, the Paris dealer Paul Rosenberg acquired a number of Cézanne works from his estate, and sold them almost immediately to museums and French collectors. Thirteen works by Cézanne, including Pichet et fruits sur une table, as well as the painting from the John Hay Whitney Collection (fig. 1), were sold to the famous Pennsylvania collector Dr Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951).
As John Rewald wrote about this group of works: 'The list of the thirteen pictures shipped to Philadelphia is quite impressive [...] It was an extraordinary group, the single particularity of which was that it comprised only still lifes and landscapes, to the exclusion of any figure pieces, whether portraits, bathers, peasants, or mythological scenes. [...] But within these limits, Barnes now saw his collection overtaking numerically the group of Cézannes owned by Mrs. Havemeyer and, above all, he came into possession of some of Cézanne's finest works. [...] Among the still lifes there was not only a tremendous variety of compositions and objects, from fruits to jugs, from flowers to a skull, from ample folds of colorful drapes to bare table tops, there was also richness of texture, of vibrant brushwork, of smooth delicate strokes. It was a review of some of the artist's greatest achievements, represented by a number of works each revealing a different aspect of his genius' (J. Rewald, op. cit., 1989, pp. 271-272).
Fig. 1, Paul Cézanne, Rideau, cruchon et compotier, 1893-94, oil on canvas, formerly in the Collection of Mr & Mrs John Hay Whitney, New York. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 10th May 1999
Fig. 2, Paul Cézanne, Nature morte aux aubergines, 1893-94, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fig. 3, Paul Cézanne, La Bouteille de menthe, 1893-95, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Oil on paper laid down on panel
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Moderne Kunst Kring, 1911
New York, Bignou Gallery, Paul Cézanne, 1936, no. 18 (as dating from 1886-87)
London, Wildenstein & Co., Hommage to Paul Cézanne, 1939, no. 34
Paris, Paul Rosenberg & Cie., Cézanne, 1939, no. 21 (as dating from 1887)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Paintings from Private Collections, 25th Anniversary Exhibition, 1955, no. 15
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Masterpieces Recalled, 1957, no. 17
41.5 by 72.3 cm. 16 3/8 by 28 1/2 in.
Harold van Doren, 'Some Little Known Cézannes', in The Touchstone, New York, December 1920, illustrated p. 184
Georges Rivière, Le Maître Paul Cézanne, Paris, 1923, listed p. 221 (titled Nature morte and as dating from 1896)
Lionello Venturi, Cézanne, son art – son œuvre, Paris, 1936, vol. I, no. 499, catalogued p. 172; vol. II, no. 499, illustrated pl. 154 (as dating from 1885-87 and with incorrect measurements)
Adrien Bagarry, 'Le centenaire de Cézanne', in La Renaissance, Paris, March 1939, illustrated p. 5
Albert C. Barnes & Violette de Mazia, The Art of Cézanne, Merion, Pennsylvania, 1939, no. 123, listed p. 29
André Leclerc, Cézanne, New York, 1948, illustrated p. 10
Alfred H. Barr, Jr., 'Paintings from Private Collections', in Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Summer 1955, no. 15, illustrated p. 32 (as dating from circa 1885-87)
Alfonso Gatto & Sandra Orienti, L'Opera completa di Cézanne, Milan, 1970, no. 480, illustrated p. 108 (as dating from circa 1885-87)
Douglas Cooper, Alex. Reid and Lefevre, 1926-1976, London, 1976, illustrated p. 79
John Rewald, Cézanne, A Biography, New York, 1986, illustrated in colour p. 180 and detail illustrated in colour on the dust-jacket
Howard Greenfield, The Devil and Dr. Barnes: Portrait of an American Collector, New York, 1987, mentioned p. 69
John Rewald, Cézanne and America. Dealers, Collectors, Artists and Critics, 1891-1921, London & Princeton, 1989, fig. 131, illustrated p. 274
Herbert Henkels, 'Cézanne en Van Gogh in het Rijksmuseum voor Moderne Kunst in Amsterdam: De collectie van Cornelis Hoogendijk', in Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1993, fig. 165, illustrated p. 262
Cézanne (exhibition catalogue), Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Tate Gallery, London; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1995-96, fig. 1, illustrated p. 384 (as dating from '1885-87 (?)' and with incorrect medium)
John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, vol. I, no. 742, catalogued p. 456; vol. II, no. 742, illustrated p. 255
Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Cornelis Hoogendijk, Amsterdam (acquired from the above before 1900)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (on deposit)
Paul Rosenberg, Paris (acquired from the Estate of Cornelis Hoogendijk on 27th May 1920)
Dr Albert C. Barnes, Merion, Pennsylvania (acquired from the above on 8th July 1920)
Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre), London (acquired from the above on 19th March 1936)
Paul Rosenberg, Paris (acquired from the above in March 1936)
Mrs Chester A. Beatty, London (acquired in 1936)
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York
Laurance S. Rockefeller, New York (acquired from the above in April 1955)
Eugene V. Thaw & Co., New York
Jaime Ortiz-Patiño, Geneva (sold: Sotheby's, New York, 9th May 1989, lot 7)
Takahashi Building Co., Ltd., Osaka
Acquired from the above by the present owner