Still lifes, which suited both Cézanne's character and his method of working, held the artist's interest throughout his career. Following on from the painters of the Dutch and Spanish schools, who devoted much attention to the "silent life", Cézanne was sensitive to the poetry of everyday objects. But rather than Vermeer, Zurbarán or Goya, it is the name of Chardin that comes to mind. Thus, in order to create an illusion of depth, Cézanne often used, as here, the device of a knife placed at an angle, a technique already borrowed from Chardin by Manet.

Alongside the onions, whose spherical shape was appropriate for Cézanne's experiments into volume, he represents some simple objects. As well as the knife, there is a bottle, a glass and a plate. His repeated use of this type of article in his still life paintings reveals that the painter was focusing his interest on the layout of the objects, the treatment of space, and on studying the effects of light on shapes. On the table, as he often did in his later still lifes, Cézanne has introduced some drapery for decorative effect, which takes away the rigorously established construction.

The fabric, like the bottle, stands out against a totally empty and neutral background, a factor that distinguishes this work from other, later still lifes, which are more crowded.We can also see here the introduction of a new system of representation, one that Cézanne would subsequently develop, and that would open the way to Cubism. Whereas the bottle and the frieze on the table are shown frontally, the perspective of the tabletop is much more raked: in the same composition, objects are painted from several different viewpoints.


  • Title: Still Life with Onions
  • Date Created: 1896 - 1898
  • Provenance: Auguste Pellerin bequest , 1929
  • Physical Dimensions: w820 x h660 mm
  • Painter: Paul Cézanne
  • Original Title: Nature morte aux oignons
  • Credit Line: © RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Musee d'Orsay, dist. RMN
  • External Link: https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections

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