Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

Théière et oranges (La Nappe)

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
Théière et oranges (La Nappe)
gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper
18 7/8 x 24 5/8 in. (48 x 62.7 cm.)
Painted circa 1895-1900
Paul Cézanne fils, Paris (by descent from the artist and until 1907).
Walther Halvorsen, Oslo.
Conrad Pinéus, Gothenburg.
Walther Halvorsen, Oslo.
Justin K. Thannhauser, Berlin (by 1927).
Samuel A. Lewisohn, New York (by 1934).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
J. Meier-Graefe, Cézanne und seine Ahnen; Faksimiles nach Aquarellen, Feder und anderen Zeichnungen von Tintoretto, Greco, Poussin, Corot, Delacroix, Cézanne, Munich, 1921, (illustrated in color), pl 19.
G. Rivière, Le maître Paul Cèzanne, Paris, 1923, p. 220.
Formes, 1932, p. 309 (illustrated).
L. Venturi, Cézanne: son artson oeuvre, Paris, 1936, vol. I, p. 285, no. 1150 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 330; titled Théière et fruits and dated 1895-1905).
S.A. Lewisohn, Painters and Personality: A Collector's View of Modern Art, New York, 1937, p. 10, (illustrated, p. 32, pl. 15).
F. Novotny, Cézanne, Vienna, 1937, (illustrated in color, pl. 110, titled Théière et fruits and dated 1900).
G. Nicodemi, Cézanne, Milan, 1944, (illustrated, fig 68).
J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne: A Biography, New York, 1948, p. 198 (illustrated in color, pl. IV; titled Still Life with Teakettle).
J. Elderfield, "Drawing in Cézanne" in Artforum, June 1971, p. 57 (illustrated, p. 56; with incorrect provenance).
W. Rubin, ed., Cézanne: The Late Work, New York, 1977, p. 358, (illustrated pl. 171).
J. Rewald, Paul Cézanne: The Watercolors, Boston, 1983, pp. 221-222, no. 544 (illustrated).
Paris, Salon d'Automne, Exposition rétrospective d'oevres de Cézanne, October 1907, no. 37.
London, Leicester Galleries, Paul Cézanne, June-July 1925, no. 28.
Berlin, Galerien Thannhauser, Erste Sonderausstellung, January-February 1927, p. 34, no. 31 (titled Stilleben).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Modern Works of Art, November 1934-January 1935, p. 23, no. 9 (titled Still Life; with inverted dimensions).
New York, Marie Harriman Gallery, Cézanne: Centennial Exhibition, November-December 1939, no. 29 (dated 1895-1905).
Ohio, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Watercolors by Paul Cézanne, December 1939-January 1940, no. 13 (dated 1895-1905).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., A Loan Exhibition of Cézanne: For the Benefit of the New York Infirmary, March-April 1947, p. 70, no. 81 (illustrated, p. 72; titled Théière et Fruits).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Lewisohn Collection: A Catalogue of the Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, Prints, and Sculpture Shown in a Special Exhibition, November-December 1951, p. 44 (illustrated).
The Art Institute of Chicago and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cézanne: Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings, February-May 1952, p. 79, no. 87 (illustrated, p. 78; dated 1895-1905).
Aix-en-Provence, Pavillon de Vendôme, Exposition pour commémorer le cinquantenaire de la morte de Cézanne, July-August 1956, no. 78 (titled Théière et fruits and dated 1898-1900).
Poughkeepsie, Vassar College and New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Centennial Loan Exhibition, May-September 1961, no. 91 (illustrated; dated 1895-1905).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Cézanne Watercolors: An Exhibition at M. Knoedler and Company, April 1963, pp. 54-55, no. 60 (illustrated, pl. LXII; dated 1900-1905).
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; The Art Institute of Chicago and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Cézanne: An Exhibition in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary of The Phillips Collection, February-July 1971, p. 84, no. 50 (illustrated, p. 85).

Lot Essay

This watercolor will be included in the online catalogue raisonné of Paul Cézanne's works on paper, under the direction of Walter Feilchenfeldt, David Nash and Jayne Warman.

In 1898, around the same time that he painted this exquisitely delicate and luminous watercolor, Cézanne received a visit from a young, aspiring artist named Louis Le Bail, who left a remarkable record of the way that “the new master of still life” (as the esteemed critic Thadée Natanson had recently dubbed him) composed his iconic paintings of apples, oranges, peaches, and pears. “Cézanne arranged the fruits, contrasting the tones one against the other, making the complementaries vibrate, the greens against the reds, the yellows against the blues, tipping, turning, balancing the fruits as he wanted them to be using coins of one or two sous for the purpose,” Le Bail wrote. “He brought to this task the greatest care and many precautions; one guessed that it was a feast for the eye to him” (quoted in G. Adriani, Cézanne Paintings, exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Tübingen, 1993, p. 172).
In Théière et oranges, the results of Cézanne’s prolonged deliberations and consummate formal inventiveness are clearly in evidence. On a rectangular wooden table partially covered with a plain white cloth, Cézanne has arranged a piece of blue-green fabric in stiff folds that rise to a peak at the left, suggesting the craggy profile of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Nestled at the base near the center of the composition are five large oranges and three slightly smaller yellow fruits, most likely peaches, their compact spherical shapes contrasting with the expansive, baroque forms of the textile and their warm, saturated hues forming a sharp contrast against the turquoise ground. “A dramatic restriction of hue contributes to a more robust definition of sculptural form,” John Elderfield has written, “in a high-pitched contrast of red-orange and chrome yellow fruit on that intense blue-green which Cézanne made so much his own” (op. cit., 1971, p. 57).
In rendering the oranges and peaches–each a singular piece of painting, a unique object, with its own nuances of local color–Cézanne has taken pains to emphasize the plasticity of the globular forms. He has described the fruits with washes of deeper color near the contours, applied in a rotary motion, turning lighter toward the interior and with the centers formed from the pure white of the paper. The two fruits in the right foreground are shown in their entirety, the trio in the center slightly overlapping, and the remaining three tucked into the cloth, only partially visible–yet in each case we remain aware of the absolute form of the sphere. “In order to make progress, there is only nature, and the eye educates itself by contact with nature,” Cézanne explained. “It becomes concentric by looking and working. What I mean is that, in an orange, an apple, a ball, a head, there is a culminating point; and this point is always–despite the tremendous effect: light and shadow, sensations colorantes–the closest to our eye” (quoted in A. Danchev, Cézanne, A Life, New York, 2012, p. 158).
The final element of the still-life is the round porcelain teapot that gives the work its traditional title. Cézanne has rendered this with an exquisite economy of means: a deep blue contour line and a few faint pencil marks surrounding the unmodulated white of the paper, with a wash of shadow just below the spout to create the impression of volumetric solidity. “The watercolor is of exceptional lightness, since the white of the paper is further enhanced by the white notes of the teapot and the tablecloth,” John Rewald has written (op. cit., 1983, p. 221). The teapot serves as an unexpected counterweight to the folds of turquoise cloth on the left, like a moon or celestial body juxtaposed to the stony mass of a mountain. Whereas the latter remains earthbound, truncated by the wainscoting on the rear wall, the teapot breaks this architectural “horizon line”, lending a subtle upward dynamism to the composition. In the upper part of the sheet, the white paper is left almost entirely blank, except where delicate violet shadows continue the ascending movement and enclose the central motif.
The round teapot–compact and centered, prosaic yet subtly elegant–also echoes the form of the oranges and peaches, the warm colors of which advance and hence are first to meet our eye. “What we know as we look at [the fruit], know it physically, in our bodies, is the feeling of having the shape of a sphere,” David Sylvester has written, “a shape that is perfectly compact, a shape that can touch similar shapes at one point only, a shape which has a very precise center of gravity. Perhaps the thing that makes us so deeply aware of this shape is above all…that the teapot apart from its handle and spout is also a sphere, standing out against those of the fruits, about twice as large and white against their luminous yellows and oranges. Its shape rhymes with the shapes of their fruits and acts as rhyme does in verse–both connecting what is dispersed and heightening our awareness of the shapes of the words that rhyme” (“‘Still Life with Teapot,’ by Cézanne,” The Listener, 18 January 1962, pp. 137-138).
Both Rewald and Venturi have dated Théière et oranges to the years 1895-1900, at the height of Cézanne’s maturity as an artist and a transformative moment for his reputation. For the better part of two decades following the Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877, almost the only public showcase for the legendarily reclusive artist’s work had been the tiny shop of Père Tanguy; most of his paintings were in the possession of family members, childhood friends, and fellow artists, as well as a few collectors he knew personally. In 1894, in the first lengthy article on Cézanne ever published, Gustave Geffroy could still describe him, memorably, as “somebody at once unknown and famous” (quoted in Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006, p. 35). That changed the very next year, however, when the shrewd young dealer Ambroise Vollard mounted the first solo exhibition of Cézanne’s work, catapulting the artist out of relative obscurity with a single stroke.
During the ensuing years, Cézanne exhibited his work widely–at the Parisian salons, in group exhibitions abroad, and at two subsequent solo shows at Vollard’s in 1898 and 1899. Even as his acclaim mounted, though, he continued to work in near-total seclusion in Provence, a renegade and solitary southerner in the Parisian art world. He probably painted Théière et oranges either in his studio at the Jas de Bouffan, his family’s ancestral home, or at the modest apartment at 23, rue Boulegon in Aix that he rented in 1899 following his mother’s death and the sale of the Jas. The same round white teapot, now with its knob removed, re-appears in an oil from 1902-1906, juxtaposed once again with a group of oranges (Rewald, no. 934; National Museum of Wales, Cardiff). The oil was painted at Cézanne’s last studio, on the hill of Les Lauves outside Aix, which served as his sanctuary and tonic during his final four years. Upon his death, the teapot remained at Les Lauves, where Rewald photographed it amidst other still-life motifs.
Théière et oranges is one of only seven watercolors that were included in the major retrospective of Cézanne’s work at the 1907 Salon d’Automne, which cemented his status as a crucial aesthetic force with which a whole new generation of the avant-garde had to contend. The watercolor subsequently entered the collection of the Norwegian painter, critic, and dealer Walther Halvorsen, a close friend and former student of Matisse.

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