Paul Cézanne painted Still Life with Curtain and Flowered Pitcher in oil on canvas around 1898. This painting is in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
What is depicted in Still Life with Curtain and Flowered Pitcher?
The painting shows two plates with fruit spread over the surface of the table on which draperies and a flowered pitcher are placed.
Still Life with Curtain and Flowered Pitcher – Analysis
Still life was a very important part of Cézanne’s work. The inventive and revolutionary principles that Cézanne introduced to still life painting can be traced through his relationship to perspective, line, and color. In the domain of perspective, Cézanne made changes that would greatly influence the later development of modern painting. He refined the default concept of linear perspective by introducing the idea of simultaneous observation of objects from several points. Relying on the theory of inverse perspective, Cézanne strove to provide as much information as possible about the presented subject. In structuring the scene, Cézanne minimized the role of the line. Although drawing was very important in Cézanne’s detailed preparation for each composition, the scene ultimately rests on the complex relationship of colors. Thus, the line in the scene was replaced by a combination of colored fields arranged according to the idea of complementarity. The complementarity of colors is the key element of Cézanne’s complex palette. Cézanne achieved harmony in both still lifes and landscapes by modulating painted surfaces based on the combination of warm and cold tones.
This still life is analyzed in William Rubin’s Cezanne: The Late Work: Cézanne painted five still lifes showing the same flower-decorated pitcher and, in the background, the same brownish curtain with leaves. In view of the fact that the curtain appears also in a much earlier work, Mardi-Gras, known to have been executed in Paris, it may be presumed that all five compositions were done there, although this painting shows a second drapery or rug that the artist subsequently used in his Aix studio.
At first sight, as John Richardson has observed, this painting seems a relatively straightforward representation of a classic still-life subject, but on closer examination anomalies emerge. The central dish of fruit, for instance, is tilted so precariously that it threatens to slide out at the onlooker. Likewise the tabletop slopes leftwards out of the picture, and the perspective of the side of the table is awry. Sometimes we seem to be looking up, sometimes down at the objects, as if the artist had changed his viewpoint. There is nothing arbitrary in the liberties that Cézanne has taken. On the contrary, by subtly adjusting the way things look and registering tonal relationships with almost scientific precision, he has endowed his still life with an extra measure of tangible reality and heightened our experience of forms in space. In the other two more elaborate variants of this theme . . . Cézanne switches his viewpoint even more drastically, in a way that anticipates Cubist still lifes of 1908-09.
Far from being at odds with the rest of the highly worked picture, the ‘unfinished’ passage in the right-hand bottom corner plays an important pictorial role. The transparency of the napkin provides a necessary note of spontaneity and emphasizes the solidity of everything else in the still life. It is also important to remember that Cézanne never thought in terms of ‘finished’ pictures; he had the courage to stop before killing a picture with a last fatal brushstroke.
Seven years later in 1905., Paul Cézanne painted a similar composition Still Life with Flower Holder (Still Life with Apples and Peaches). This painting is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington.