Throughout his life, the French painter Paul Cézanne returned again and again to the still life. Encompassing small—scale domestic scenes rather than grand public ones, still life was considered the lowliest of genres by the French Royal Academy, the official arbiter of great art in the nineteenth century. Yet in Still Life with Apples, Cézanne proved that this modest genre could be a vehicle for thinking through the Impressionist project of 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 our attention to the quality of the paint and canvas, and we never lose ourselves in illusion. For example, the edges of the fruit in the bowl are hard to define, appearing to shift before our eyes. Cézanne's scene defies the rules of linear perspective (a system for creating the illusion of space on a flat surface, wherein every object is seen from a single, fixed point of view) and instead gives us shifting views. The right corner of the table tilts forward, and fails to align with the left side; the pitcher, the bowl, and the glass all tilt to the left, as if magnetically drawn to the curtain. Even though the artist worked on this painting for a number of years, some areas of canvas are left bare, and others, like the drape of the tablecloth on the right edge of the table, 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.


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