Saturday in the Museum with Paul

Image: Paul Cézanne, Sugar Bowl, Pears and Blue Cup (Sucrier, poires et tasse bleue) (c. 1866)

For the past several months we have been focusing on still lifes for our Saturday art posts. Going chronologically, at least when focusing on European painters, means you focus on the Dutch early but eventually you must end up in Provence with Cézanne. The painting posted today required the research team in our art department to go down a bit of a rabbit hole.

The piece Sugar Bowl, Pears and Blue Cup (Sucrier, poires et tasse bleue in French) was featured in the exhibition, The World is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne in 2014. The attribution at that time indicated it was in the holdings of the Musée D’Orsay, but it is actually on display in Provence at the Musée Granet, though they do not seem to have a specific page dedicated to it. Hence, the sleuthing required to locate its current residence.

The piece is interesting because it represents a distinct stylistic period for Cézanne, when he was pushing boundaries with the thick application of paint. Ten or so years after this painting he would transition to the more familiar style of somewhat dusty yet bright apples and objects. This one though is less about the approach to painting apples and more about his approach to painting as he worked through his development and away from both the classic tradition and his Impressionist contemporaries.

A 2014 NPR story by Susan Stamberg quotes Benedict Leca, the show curator and director of curatorial affairs at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, on the shocking nature of this period: “They thought he was crazy. People said he was on drugs, even. People said that he was dabbling in hashish and that he was out of his mind.” It is the brushwork. Judith Dolkart (what an apt name!), the chief curator at the Barnes Foundation, where the exhibit was shown, points out that, “These are very short, parallel strokes, very clearly painted.” Stamberg notes, “The paint is thick, almost chiseled onto the canvas. You can see the edges of each hatched stroke. And, subtly, within each paint stroke, the colors change. One has more white in it; the one next to it is darker.” Dolkart says he is not trying to hide the painter’s hand. “Every time he is lifting his brush, he’s declaring, ‘I’m a painter. This is my medium. These are my materials.'”

Fear not dear readers, the story will not end there! We have been waiting for months to dig into Cézanne, and now the moment has arrived like an early Christmas gift.


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