Cézanne rarely painted flowering plants or fresh-cut bouquets, which were susceptible to wilting under his protracted gaze. He included potted plants only in three still lifes, two views of the conservatory at Jas de Bouffan, his family's estate, and about a dozen exquisite watercolors made over the course of two decades (from about 1878 to 1906). Cézanne seems to have reserved this particular table, with its scalloped apron and distinctive bowed legs, for three of his finest still lifes of the 1890s.
This painting was once owned by the ardent gardener Claude Monet.
The Painting: Paul Cézanne often has been called a master of still-life painting. In The Met’s picture, we can see why. The white tablecloth and the apples rise and fall in variegated hillocks of a lush new territory, the world of Cézanne’s apples, where the sense of the solidity of the apples is closely allied to their spherical geometry. Similarly, the repetitive pyramids of wrinkled cloth and the extreme darks and lights of shadow and light in the white tablecloth enrich our sense of its physicality. The flowering plant, identified by botanist Stephen K-M. Tim in 1982 as closest to a Chinese primrose (Primula sinensis; see Tim 1982 letter in Met curatorial file), seems to stand and take notice, the observer to the riotous cavalcade of objects in front of it. Meanwhile, the sky-colored blue-green background with brushstrokes left clearly visible serves as a reminder of the natural world beyond the picture’s frame.
This still life has been dated to about 1890. It was a product of Cézanne’s return to his native Aix-en-Provence that year. The same light pink primroses in a cream-toned flowerpot appear in Pot of Primroses and Fruit (see Additional Images, fig. 1), which is currently dated slightly earlier than The Met’s picture by Rewald (1996), though Venturi (1936) dated both of them 1890–94. This was the same period as his The Card Players (The Met, 61.101.1), where figures appear as stationary as a still life in the midst of a card game. In contrast to a number of other still lifes by Cézanne, the handling of the objects depicted in The Met’s tabletop composition is much more precisely rendered, with the edges of each primrose leaf, for example, strongly delineated against the lighter blue background and the contours of each fruit and flower firmly contained. The painter seems to have embraced this more exacting technique around 1890 (see Related Works below).
The reddish brown wooden table with a scalloped apron and bowed legs helps in dating the painting, since it can be found in other paintings and drawings by the artist executed while he was living at his family estate, Jas de Bouffon, in Aix-en-Provence in the early 1890s and beyond. Examples include his Still Life with Apples and Peaches (see Additional Images, fig. 2), Nature morte aux oignons (fig. 3), and The Vase of Tulips (fig. 4). The table still sat in Cézanne’s studio at Les Lauves in 1983, when John Rewald linked the artist’s oil and watercolor depictions of this table to his Aix period. Rewald took a photograph of the same table in the studio at Les Lauves around 1935 with a number of props the artist had used sitting on it (fig. 5).
Once owned by fellow painter and gardening enthusiast Claude Monet, The Met’s picture was actually a gift to Monet in 1894 from the painter Paul Helleu (1859–1927) (Howard-Johnston 1969 and Stuckey 1995), known for his portraits of French society women but perhaps more famous today for his astrological ceiling design at New York’s Grand Central Station. Helleu probably recognized that Monet would enjoy this vibrant image of thriving, freshly potted primroses, much like those in Monet’s own hothouse garden at Giverny. It was a good bet. In fact, Monet owned some fourteen oil paintings and one watercolor of Cézanne’s in all and had acquired his first canvas by Cézanne already in the early 1870s from a dealer as partial payment for one of his own (Warman 2011, p. 164).
Cézanne’s Still Lifes: Art historian Benedict Leca noted that "in Cézanne’s hands, still lifes ["natures mortes," or, literally, "dead nature"] were not at all dead, but were animated with living objects, elements of a dynamic, conceptual and pictorial process" (Benedict Leca, "Le Monde est une pomme: natures mortes et portraits parisiens de Cézanne," in Cézanne et Paris, exh. cat. Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2011, p. 110, my translation). Cézanne’s use and reuse of the apple motif became a sort of a leitmotif for the artist, himself. The painter succinctly conveyed this idea in his drawing Self-Portrait and Apple (1882–83, Cincinnati Art Museum). The Met’s collection includes three other still lifes with apples by Cézanne, two from the late 1870s and one produced slightly later than the present canvas (The Met, 29.100.66, 1997.60.1, and 61.101.3). Cézanne once explained to the critic Gustave Geffroy while both were visiting Monet that he wanted to astonish Paris with an apple (Moffett 1985). His series of apple still lifes certainly present a concerted, perhaps obsessive, examination of an everyday object; this was to be a revolution at small-scale.
The artist actually preferred to paint artificial flowers that would not wilt over the course of his slow study and painting of them. The Met’s picture is one of only a few in which the artist explored flowering plants or freshly cut flowers (Stein 2007).
Related Works: Cézanne painted primroses in one other still life, Pot of Primroses and Fruit (see Additional Images, fig. 1). His Still Life with Flowers and Fruits (see Additional Images, fig. 6) is a compositionally similar fruit and flower still life from the same period with the right side of the canvas dominated by a tall floral composition and the left side filled with architectural-seeming pyramids formed by a white tablecloth with scattered fruit atop it (in this case, pears). In both, the artist took pains to define each green leaf with great specificity and modeled his fruit as seemingly graspable solid masses.
[Jane R. Becker 2017]
[Julien-François (père) Tanguy, Paris]; Paul Helleu, Paris (until 1894; sent as a gift in late March via Durand-Ruel to Monet); Claude Monet, Giverny (1894–d. 1926); his son, Michel Monet, Giverny; [Paul Rosenberg, Paris]; [Bernheim-Jeune, Paris and Knoedler Galleries, Paris and New York]; Adolph Lewisohn, New York (by 1929–d. 1938); his son, Sam A. Lewisohn, New York (1938–d. 1951)
Paris. Musée des Arts Décoratifs. "Cinquante ans de peinture française, 1875–1925," May 28–July 12, 1925, no. 12 (as "Pommes sur une table," lent by Claude Monet).
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "First Loan Exhibition: Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, van Gogh," November 7–December 7, 1929, no. 29 (lent by Adolph Lewisohn, New York).
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Summer Exhibition: Painting and Sculpture," July 10–September 30, 1933, no catalogue.
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Exhibition of Modern European Art," October 4–25, 1933, unnumbered cat.
Toledo Museum of Art. "Cézanne, Gauguin," June–August 1935, unnumbered cat. (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Sam A. Lewisohn).
Paris. Musée de l'Orangerie. "Cézanne," May–October 1936, no. 70 (as "Pot de géranium et pommes," lent by Adolphe [sic] Lewisohn, New York).
London. New Burlington Galleries. "Exhibition of Masters of French 19th Century Painting," October 1–31, 1936, no. 89 (lent by Adolphe [sic] Lewisohn, New York).
Paris. Palais National des Arts. "Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français," July–September 1937, no. 253 (lent by Adolphe [sic] Lewisohn, New York).
New York. Durand-Ruel. "Exhibition of Masterpieces by Cézanne," March 29–April 16, 1938, no. 18 (lent by Adolph Lewisohn) [see Rewald 1996].
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European & American Paintings, 1500–1900," May–October 1940, no. 346 (lent by the Lewisohn collection, New York).
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Art in Progress," May 24–October 15, 1944, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 24; as "Still Life with Primroses," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Sam A. Lewisohn).
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Cézanne," March 27–April 26, 1947, no. 51 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel A. Lewisohn).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Lewisohn Collection," November 2–December 2, 1951, no. 13.
Art Institute of Chicago. "Cézanne: Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings," February 7–March 16, 1952, no. 83.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Cézanne: Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings," April 4–May 18, 1952, no. 83.
Rotterdam. Museum Boymans. "Vier Eeuwen Stilleven in Frankrijk," July 10–September 20, 1954, no. 109.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 15, 1970–February 15, 1971, not in catalogue.
Fort Lauderdale. Museum of Art. "Corot to Cézanne: 19th Century French Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," December 22, 1992–April 11, 1993, no catalogue.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920," February 4–May 6, 2007, no. 76.
Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Paul Cézanne: Mappe. Munich, 1912, pl. 10, as "Äpfel und Primeltopf".
Cinquante ans de peinture française, 1875–1925. Exh. cat., Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Paris, 1925, p. 7, no. 12, dates it 1886.
Stephan Bourgeois and Waldemar George. "The French Paintings of the XIXth and XXth Centuries in the Adolph and Samuel Lewisohn Collection." Formes nos. 28–29 (1932), p. 301, ill. after p. 304.
Mid-Week Pictorial 38 (October 14, 1933), ill. p. 10, notes its inclusion in the "Exhibition of Modern European Art" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Lionello Venturi. Cézanne: son art—son oeuvre. Paris, 1936, vol. 1, pp. 57, 194, no. 599; vol. 2, pl. 194, no. 599, calls it "Pot de géraniums et fruits" and dates it 1890–94.
Élie Faure. Cézanne. Paris, , fig. 40, dates it about 1890.
Jacques de Laprade. "L'exposition Cézanne à l'Orangerie." Beaux-Arts no. 177 (May 22, 1936), p. 2, ill. p. 10, dates it about 1885.
Charles Sterling inCézanne. Exh. cat., Musée de l'Orangerie. Paris, 1936, p. 96, no. 70, pl. XXXVII, dates it 1886–88.
René Huyghe. Cézanne. Paris, 1936, pp. 44, 48, 66, fig. 36, dates it about 1885.
John Rewald. "Cézanne et son oeuvre." L'Art sacré special number (May 1936), p. 8, fig. 15.
"Cézanne's Paintings and Watercolors Exhibited in Fine One Man Loan Show at the Paris Orangerie." Art News 34 (August 15, 1936), pp. 6, 13, ill., dates it about 1886–88.
Exhibition of Masters of French 19th Century Painting. Exh. cat., New Burlington Galleries. London, 1936, pp. 40–41, no. 89, pl. IX, dates it 1886–88.
Sam A. Lewisohn. Painters and Personality: A Collector's View of Modern Art. [New York], 1937, p. 37, pl. 18, calls it "Apples and Primroses".
Fritz Novotny. Cézanne. Vienna, 1937, pl. 74, calls it "Still-Life with Pot of Geraniums" and dates it 1886–90.
Introduction by René Huyghe. Cent trente chefs-d'œuvre de l'art français du moyen age au XXe siècle. Paris, 1937, pl. 114.
Charles Sterling inChefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Exh. cat., Palais National des Arts. Paris, 1937, pp. 127–28, no. 253.
Fritz Novotny. Cézanne und das Ende der Wissenschaftlichen Perspektive. Vienna, 1938, pp. 71–72 n. 64.
Robert J. Goldwater. "Cézanne in America: The Master's Paintings in American Collections." Art News Annual, section I (The 1938 Annual), 36 (March 26, 1938), p. 160, ill. p. 143, dates it 1890–94; compares the "clarity of color and openness of arrangement" to Cézanne landscapes of the 1890s.
Alfred M. Frankfurter. "Cézanne: Intimate Exhibition. Twenty-one Paintings Shown for the Benefit of Hope Farm." Art News 36 (March 26, 1938), pp. 17, 30, ill., dates it 1890–94.
Alfred M. Frankfurter. "Cézanne in New York." Burlington Magazine 72 (May 1938), p. 243, dates it 1890–94.
Albert C. Barnes and Violette De Mazia. The Art of Cézanne. New York, 1939, pp. 72, 313 n. 23, pp. 363, 414, no. 121, date it about 1890.
Raymond Cogniat. Cézanne. Paris, 1939, pl. 78, dates it 1890–94.
Sam A. Lewisohn. "Personalities Past and Present." Art News, section I (The 1939 Annual), 37 (February 25, 1939), ill. p. 69 (installation photo of Lewisohn's home).
Alfred M. Frankfurter. "383 Masterpieces of Art." Art News (The 1940 Annual) 38 (May 25, 1940), p. 66.
Walter Pach inMasterpieces of Art: Catalogue of European and American Paintings, 1500–1900. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1940, pp. 235–36, no. 346, ill., dates it 1886–90.
Art in Progress. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1944, ill. p. 24, dates it 1890–94.
Walt Kuhn. "Cézanne: Delayed Finale." Art News 46 (April 1947), pp. 15–16, ill., dates it 1890–94.
Bernard Dorival. Cézanne. [English ed., 1948]. Paris, 1948, pp. 57, 161, pl. 98, dates it 1890–94 and erroneously locates it as still in the A. Lewisohn collection; comments that Cézanne very rarely included plants in his still lifes.
Fritz Novotny. Cézanne. New York, 1948, pl. 68, dates it 1886–90.
Liliane Guerry. Cézanne et l'expression de l'espace. [1st ed.; 2nd ed., 1966]. Paris, 1950, pp. 70, 99.
Theodore Rousseau Jr. inThe Lewisohn Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1951, pp. 7–8, 13, 43, no. 13, ill., calls it "one of the most balanced, carefully carried out works of the master" and remarks that the arrangement of the apples and cloth have "a rhythm reminiscent of his landscapes".
Daniel Catton Rich inCézanne: Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. [Chicago], 1952, p. 75, no. 83, ill., dates it 1890–94, and calls the still lifes of this period "among the most objectified and realistic of all Cézanne's work".
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "Notes." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (May 1952), unpaginated, ill. on front cover (color), calls it "Still Life with Apples and Primroses" and dates it to the early 1890s; states that Cézanne gave it to Monet [see Refs. Raynal 1954, Howard-Johnston 1969]; remarks that "for many years it hung over the head of Monet's bed in his house at Giverny, and his widow refused to sell it in her lifetime".
Theodore Rousseau Jr. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Miniatures: Paintings by Paul Cézanne. Vol. 35, New York, 1952, unpaginated, ill. (color), dates it 1890–94; notes that it "has the same serious qualities as The Card Players" (MMA 61.101.1) and that its serenity recalls "The Gulf of Marseilles, Seen from L'Estaque" (MMA 29.100.67).
Bernard Berenson. Caravaggio: His Incongruity and His Fame. London, 1953, pp. 23–24.
Lawrence Gowing and Ronald Alley. An Exhibition of Paintings by Cézanne. Exh. cat., Royal Scottish Academy Building. Edinburgh, 1954, unpaginated, under no. 40, note that the same pot of flowers appears in "Pot of Primroses and Fruit" (about 1888–90; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; V623, R639); based on the table, suggest that both pictures were painted at Aix and comment that they "precede the elaborately constructed groups of the nineties".
Maurice Raynal. Cézanne. Lausanne, 1954, p. 85, ill. (color), dates it 1890–94; states that Monet bought it in 1894 "almost as soon as Cézanne had finished it" [see Refs. Rousseau 1952, Howard-Johnston 1969].
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), ill. p. 53.
Howard Fussiner. "Organic Integration in Cézanne's Painting." College Art Journal 15 (Summer 1956), pp. 304–8, 310–11, fig. 2, dates it 1890–1900; compares it to Chardin's "Kitchen Still Life" (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Degas's "A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers" (MMA 29.100.128).
Michel Faré. La nature morte en France. Geneva, 1962, vol. 2, fig. 499, erroneously as still in the Lewisohn collection.
Don Richardson. Letter to Mrs. Whitney. November 22, 1964, asserts that the flowers are Chinese, not English, primroses.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, pp. 102–4, ill.
Margaretta M. Salinger. "Windows Open to Nature." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27 (Summer 1968), unpaginated, ill. (color), dates it about 1886.
Richard W. Murphy et al. The World of Cézanne: 1839–1906. New York, 1968, p. 134, ill. (color), dates it 1890–94.
Chuji Ikegami. Cézanne. Tokyo, 1969, p. 131, no. 49, ill. (color and black and white), dates it 1890–94.
Paulette Howard-Johnston. "Une visite à Giverny en 1924." L'Oeil no. 171 (March 1969), pp. 30–31, ill. (color), states that Paul Helleu gave this picture to Monet in 1894 [see Refs. Rousseau 1952, Raynal 1954].
Sandra Orienti inL'opera completa di Cézanne. [French ed., 1975; English ed., 1985]. Milan, 1970, pp. 123–24, no. 822, ill., dates it 1890–94.
Bernard Dunstan. Painting Methods of the Impressionists. New York, 1976, p. 94, ill. (color).
Stephen K-M. Tim. Letter to Charles Moffett. April 7, 1982, identifies the plant as a primrose and notes its particular similarity to the Chinese primrose, a species introduced into Europe for indoor decoration.
John Rewald. Paul Cézanne: The Watercolors, A Catalogue Raisonné. Boston, 1983, p. 221, under no. 542, lists this painting among three others depicting the same table, noting that the table also appears in several watercolors; adds that this table was likely "a prop the artist used in Aix and... the works in which it appears were executed there".
Charles S. Moffett. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, pp. 11, 184–85, 253, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Christian Geelhaar in Mary Louise Krumrine. Paul Cézanne: The Bathers. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts. Basel, 1990, p. 302 n. 63, lists it among a group of thirteen Cézanne paintings which were owned by Monet.
Roger Hurlburt. "Free Spirits." Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale) (December 20, 1992), p. 4D.
Helen Kohen. "Lasting Impressions." Miami Herald (December 20, 1992), p. 6I.
Götz Adriani. Cézanne: Gemälde. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle Tübingen. Cologne, 1993, p. 114 n. 2, p. 178 n. 1 [English ed., 1995].
Jean-Marie Baron and Pascal Bonafoux. Cézanne: Les natures mortes. Paris, 1993, pp. 38–39, ill. (color), date it 1890–94.
Charles F. Stuckey. Claude Monet, 1840–1926. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, 1995, p. 225, states that this picture was sent to Monet by Durand-Ruel in late March 1894, as a gift from Paul Helleu.
Walter Feilchenfeldt inCézanne. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. Philadelphia, 1996, p. 571 [French ed., Paris, 1995].
John Rewald, in collaboration with Walter Feilchenfeldt, and Jayne Warman. The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné. New York, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 434, 567–70, no. 680; vol. 2, p. 233, fig. 680, calls it "Pot de primevères et fruits sur une table" and dates it about 1890.
Henri Loyrette inCézanne. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. Philadelphia, 1996, p. 99 n. 2 [French ed., Paris, 1995], lists it among fourteen Cézanne paintings owned by Monet.
Isabelle Cahn inCézanne. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. Philadelphia, 1996, p. 567 [French ed., Paris, 1995].
Sarah Lees inThe Clark Brothers Collect: Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings. Exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Williamstown, Mass., 2006, p. 245.
Gilbert T. Vincent and Sarah Lees inThe Clark Brothers Collect: Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings. Exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Williamstown, Mass., 2006, p. 148, remark that Stephen Clark considered it for his first purchase of a Cézanne, but decided its asking price was too high.
Susan Alyson Stein inThe Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, pp. 110, 188–89, no. 76, ill. (color and black and white).
Susan Alyson Stein inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 124, 222, no. 113, ill. (color and black and white).
Jayne S. Warman inCézanne et Paris. Ed. Denis Coutagne. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg. Paris, 2011, p. 167, fig. 83 (color).
Guillermo Solana. Cézanne site/non-site. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Madrid, 2014, pp. 139–40, fig. 23 (color), compares the placement of apples in it to that of houses on the hillside of "The Sea at L'Estaque behind Trees" (1878–79, Musée Picasso, Paris).