Examination: Cezanne's The Basket of Apples
Will the apples fall off the table? Explore the tension between stability and imbalance in this late still life by Cezanne.
Book: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 139.
Many of Paul Cézanne’s late still lifes depict complex arrangements whose artificial character underscores the artist’s role as contriver. They are, however, very different from the seventeenth-century Dutch prototypes to which they are sometimes compared. Cézanne never aimed at illusionism, and his still-life compositions can be anthropomorphic, expressive of psychological tension, in ways never dreamt of by his Baroque predecessors.
The Basket of Apples exemplifies this effect. The theatrical tilt of the basket implies that the apples on the tabletop have rolled out of it; yet the way they huddle and nestle in the crumpled napkin suggests that they possess independent minds. The biscuits on a plate are carefully stacked, but they too seem animate, as if straining to take in the drama unfolding before them. The bottle—slightly askew and off center, teasingly close to stabilizing union with the picture’s upper edge—presides over the scene like a dark sentinel. Poised between resolution and imbalance, sensation and ponderation, The Basket of Apples makes tangible the complex eye-mind interplay that determines visual experience.
Cézanne’s grave attentiveness to this dynamic gives his art a philosophical cast, but the pleasures afforded by his robust color chords, lively touch, and sure compositional instincts make it seductive. Here, his considered juxtapositions of autumnal hues, like the resolutely disjointed table edges and intentionally "unfinished" contours, draw attention to the deliberative nature of art-making.
Cézanne’s determination to recognize the provisional nature of perception derives from Impressionism, but his stress on the tension between optical sensation and aesthetic transformation sets him apart. In his mature work, he found beauty of a new kind in the inherently charged dialogue between contingency and contemplation, thereby facilitating the more radical break with realistic representation effected by the Cubists and other modernists in the early twentieth century.