PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
1 More
PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
4 More
Property Sold to Benefit Museum Langmatt
PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)

Quatre pommes et un couteau

PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)
Quatre pommes et un couteau
oil on canvas
8 ¾ x 10 ¼ in. (22.2 x 26.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1885
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Sidney and Jenny Brown, Baden (acquired from the above, 4 July 1933, then by descent).
Stiftung Langmatt Sidney und Jenny Brown, Baden (bequest from the above, 1987).
M. Dormoy, "Quelques tableaux de la collection particulière Ambroise Vollard" in Formes, no. 17, September 1931 (illustrated, between pp. 122 and 123; titled Nature morte and dated 1890).
L. Venturi, Cezanne: Son art, son œuvre, Paris, 1936, vol. I, p. 174, no. 509 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 156).
S. Orienti, The Complete Paintings of Cezanne, New York, 1972, p. 109, no. 476 (illustrated, p. 108; dated 1883).
E. Maurer, "Kommentare zu: Stilleben" in Du, vol. 49, no. 9, September 1989, p. 19 (illustrated in color; dated 1885-1886).
F. Deuchler, Die französischen Impressionisten und ihre Vorläufer, Baden, 1990, p. 84, no. 16 (illustrated in color, p. 85).
F. Kitschen, Cezanne: Stilleben, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1995, pp. 111 and 198 (illustrated, p. 111, fig. 38; dated 1885-1887).
J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cezanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, vol. I, p. 378, no. 562 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 185).
E.-M. Preiswerk-Lösel, ed., Ein Haus für die Impressionisten Das Museum Langmatt, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2001, pp. 172-174 and 258, no. 21 (illustrated in color, p. 173; illustrated again, p. 258; titled Vier Äpfel).
P. Machotka, Cezanne: La sensation à l'œuvre, Marseille, 2008, vol. II, p. 178 (illustrated; illustrated in color, vol. I, fig. 271).
W. Feilchenfeldt, J. Warman and D. Nash, The Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings of Paul Cezanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné (, no. FWN 798 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, Cezanne, May-October 1936, pp. 92-93, no. 62 (titled Pommes sur une assiette and dated circa 1885-1886).
Luxembourg Casino, Luxe, calme et volupté: Regards sur le Post-Impressionnisme, collectionneurs à Winterthur et Baden au début du XXe siècle, January-March 1995, p. 214, no. 27 (illustrated; dated 1883-1887).
Essen, Museum Folkwang, Cezanne: Aufbruch in die Moderne, September 2004-January 2005, p. 231 (illustrated in color, p. 79).

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Painted circa 1885, Quatre pommes et un couteau is simultaneously a work of striking simplicity and rich complexity, centered around one of Paul Cezanne’s favorite leitmotifs—the familiar spherical form of an apple. Having been largely absent from his still life paintings of the 1860s, this everyday piece of fruit began to appear with increasing frequency in his compositions the following decade, stacked in haphazard piles within compotiers, scattered across table-tops amid a large, multi-layered tableau, or clustered together in a tight bundle within a compact sliver of space. Cezanne found a whole world of pictorial dynamics in these quotidian organic objects—they would provide the fundamental subject matter for his first radical investigations into form and would continue to fascinate him throughout the rest of his career, appearing in a myriad of different groupings and arrangements, scenes and settings. Indeed, it was his ongoing meditations on the fruit that led him to proclaim his desire “to astonish Paris with an apple!” (quoted in Cezanne, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1996, p. 383).
In Quatre pommes et un couteau, Cezanne’s musings on the theme play out on an intimate scale, each of the four apples imbued with a distinct sense of individuality and character, as they sit atop a plain wooden table. Here, the apples are the central focus within the tightly condensed view, as Cezanne reduces the composition to a handful of essential elements, drawing the eye to their richly hued surfaces, the charged spaces between their forms, and their roughly shaped, imperfect contours. Three of the apples are clustered together on a plain white plate, while the fourth stands slightly apart, placed directly on the table but right beside the others, creating a loose diamond configuration that sits just off-center. While the apples remain resolutely representational, they nevertheless take on an abstracted quality thanks to the close-up nature of their depiction, their forms coming in and out of focus as our attention shifts from one element to the next.
Cezanne heightens the drama within the scene by adopting an extremely cropped view, rendering some elements mysterious and strange, while others appear to slip off the edge of the canvas, subtly indicating the extension of space beyond the painted image. The distinctive pattern of one of the artist’s favorite blue tablecloths is just visible at the lower left corner of the canvas, for example, while the edge of the simple white plate is entirely cut-off, the arc of its circular rim ending abruptly as it hits the left hand border of the canvas. This unusual vantage point also complicates our sense of perspective, giving the impression that the tabletop is tilted upwards towards the viewer, generating a dynamic tension between each of the objects, held in place by their own unique gravity. The titular knife, meanwhile, interjects diagonally into the scene, its loosely delineated handle pointing straight towards the center of the apples as it blade disappears beneath the plate. Hinting at the presence of the painter or another individual within the space, this addition transforms the composition from a purely theoretical study of fruit, imbuing the scene with a domestic atmosphere, as if Cezanne had found himself unexpectedly captivated by a haphazard arrangement of objects at the breakfast table, which he then immortalized on canvas.
While some scholars have suggested that Quatre pommes et un couteau may have been a fragment of a larger work, cut down to the present format, others have noted the fact that Cezanne created several other still lifes over the course of this year on a similarly modest scale, each one exploring a close vantage point and unexpected cropping, suggesting that the painting may have been intended as an autonomous work, forming part of an interconnected series of artistic meditations. For example, Pommes, orange et citron (FWN, no. 800; Kunstmuseum Bern) portrays an expanded grouping of fruit on the same white plate, this time placed centrally in the rectangular canvas, the surrounding space a dark well of shadows. Adopting an even tighter close-up, Cezanne forces the viewer to focus solely on this plate of globular fruit, removing all other objects from view. In Grenade et poires dans une assiette (FWN, no. 799; Private collection), meanwhile, the artist draws back, granting us a wider view of the scene, revealing a larger swathe of the same patterned blue fabric as it stretches across the left hand edge of the table, while the mysterious globe-like white form in the background of Quatre pommes et un couteau suddenly comes into view as the curved bowl of a large jug, the base of its handle now visible as it is turned slightly to face the viewer.
In many ways, the apple’s resurgence in Cezanne’s still-life paintings coincided with a transformative moment in his career. Towards the end of the 1870s, the artist had begun to move away from the spontaneous, broken touch of the Impressionist technique, which had dominated his oeuvre up to that point, and instead began to look beyond capturing a fleeting, ephemeral moment on canvas. To this end, he developed a boldly distinctive and highly influential “constructed” style of painting, embracing a more structured technique and approach to form in order to “make of Impressionism something solid and enduring like the art in museums” (quoted in P.M. Doran, ed., Conversations with Cezanne, Berkeley, 2001, p. 169). The still lifes from this period played an important role in the evolution of his new style, acting as neutral ground on which he could methodically work through his ideas and experiment, probing the boundaries of illusionism on their still, unwavering forms. These explorations resulted in the nuanced, carefully considered play of brushwork seen in Quatre pommes et un couteau, where Cezanne conjures the apples through a tightly woven pattern of regular, linear touches.
Cezanne’s process was methodical, patient and deliberate, guided by the intense observation of the objects before him, which he then translated into his paintings through prolonged study and deliberation, each touch of paint carefully considered before making contact with the canvas. At the same time he worked in a highly improvisational manner, continually adjusting and shifting direction as he painted, assessing the overall effect of the scene as it progressed, making modifications as needed. It was this sense of deep contemplation that led Emile Bernard to write: “it is necessary to come up with a special vocabulary to express the intimate quality of each tone, each impasto, each shade, each brushstroke” in Cezanne’s work (quoted in F. Leeman, “Painting ‘after’ Cezanne,” in Cezanne and the Dawn of Modern Art, exh. cat., Museum Folkwang, Essen, 2004, p. 171). In Quatre pommes et un couteau, the apples are built up in a chromatic symphony of green, yellow, red, and orange, with delicate touches of lilac and blue in certain passages to create a gentle indent, accentuate a curve, or suggest a small shadow. These densely packed strokes of vibrant tones allow the apples to stand out against the subtle modulations of the gray and ochre ground, while the white plate on which they sit is brought to life through a play of subdued blues, lilacs, and dove grays. The nuanced and carefully layered brushstrokes give way towards the right of the composition, transitioning into an open ended space to the right that remains unresolved, offering an intriguing counterpoint to the opposite edge, where the objects overrun the boundaries of the canvas.
The difference in the application of paint and the varying density of brushwork in the present canvas illustrates Cezanne’s complex attitude towards the notion of finish. Friends and contemporaries reported that the artist often had difficulty finishing a painting, or that he would continue working on a canvas long after it appeared complete to others. Cezanne himself once explained to his mother, “I have to work constantly, [but] not in order to arrive at finish, which attracts the admiration of imbeciles… This thing, which is so much admired, is only the feat of an artisan’s skill and renders every resulting work inartistic and common. I must strive to complete only for the satisfaction of being truer and more artistic” (quoted in Cezanne: Finished-Unfinished, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich, 2000, p. 35). Indeed, it was the process of painting, the push and pull between artist and subject, vision and reality, improvisation and order, that so fascinated Cezanne, and which make works such as Quatre pommes et un couteau endlessly captivating for viewers to this day.

More from 20th Century Evening Sale

View All
View All