This summer, the Barnes Foundation
premiered a landmark exhibition of still-life paintings by French post-impressionist Paul Cézanne (18391906). Ranging from early paintings to very late works, with themes ranging from apples and flowers to skulls, this select gathering of 21 paintings reappraises Cézannes monumental achievement in the genre. The exhibition, The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne, runs from June 22 to September 22 at The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
The exhibition draws from an international roster of public and private collections, including major works from acclaimed European and American museums such as the National Gallery (Washington, DC), Musée dOrsay (Paris), Stiftung Langmatt (Baden), Kunstmuseum Solothurn, Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York). Since many of the works come from private collections, this exhibition provides a rare glimpse of several well-known pieces.
The exhibition complements the 69 Cézanne works on display in the permanent collection of the Barnes Foundation. In conjunction with the exhibition, fourteen new audio descriptions of Cézanne works (up from the previous six for a total of twenty) will be permanently added to the audio guide for visitors.
This is the first Cézanne exhibition in our new exhibition space, said Judith F. Dolkart, Deputy Director of Art and Archival Collections and Gund Family Chief Curator. It is particularly exciting to have this rare opportunity to consider the 16 Cézanne still lifes in the Barnes Foundation permanent collection in a fresh, new lightin the context of the exceptional grouping of loaned masterpieces presented in this show.
Soon after arriving in Paris in the 1860s, Cézanne became a notorious figure, unprecedented in the history of French art. At the center of his radical self-fashioning were his still lifes of often glaring colors, skewed perspective, and thickly painted surfaces that unmoored objects and their meanings from conventional representation. Cézanne established his distinctive style through works such as Still Life: Flask, Glass, and Jug (c. 1877) and Apples and Cakes (1877), recasting the physical and perceptual relations between people and things. Extending their traditional meanings as symbols of abundance, vanity, or rusticity, Cézanne used apples, skulls, or crockery to create a visual language of punning juxtapositions and poetic allusion. His paintings invite viewers to rethink the world and the place of man and objects in it.
While he surely looked closely at nature, Cézanne self-consciously plays with colors, forms, and space in a manner that invites a free association that contrasts with the fixed meanings of academic tradition in his still lifes. He creates an alternative world where things can move and exist improbably and signify variously, exploding and evading the traditional containment of the silent life of things, explains exhibition curator Benedict Leca.
As the Painter of Apples, Cézanne returned many times to his signature motif, working through the complexities of color application and its effects. Cézannes famous apple paintings are represented in the exhibition by three exceptional examples: Seven Apples and a Tube of Color, Apples on a Chair, and Some Apples (all ca. 18781880). Also on view, a contrasting pair of flower paintings: The Dark Blue Vase III (1880) is a small-scale, intimate work in which Cézanne explores pattern, while the large Vase of Flowers exemplifies Cézannes later obsessions with contours and surfaces.
Over the course of his career, Cézanne moved progressively towards a highly structured style of still-life painting, characterized by ever more deliberate arrangements of objects. His classic phase culminated in the 1890s and is represented in the exhibition by major works like The Kitchen Table (c. 1890) and Fruit and Ginger Pot (18901893). The latest works in the exhibition are anchored by two important paintings of skulls, Three Skulls and Three Skulls on a Patterned Carpet.
A prolific artist who synthesized formal problems through a close study of objects, Cézannes lifelong engagement with still life yielded what is arguably the most innovative body of work in the genre by any artist in the Western canon. Ultimately, Cézanne set still-life painting on a new course, rescuing it from its low position in the academic hierarchy of French painting, and prefiguring later compositions of masters from Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol.