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Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Oranges

paul_cezanne_still_life_with_apples_and_orangesPaul Cézanne was well aware of the symbolic meanings attached to the fruit he chose to paint when he made Still Life with Apples and Oranges. He also had to know that in choosing apples and oranges as his subject and by including “apples and oranges” in the title for this painting, he would be making a direct allusion to the idiom “comparing apples to oranges.” The European French for this is close enough: “comparer des pommes et des poires (to compare apples and pears).”1

The idiom refers to the differences between two unlike items. It can also refer to a false analogy where apple is like orange, but is a poor example of orange. A third possibility is that we take the idiom as a subjective statement, as if to say, apples and oranges should not be compared. Loaded with these idiomatic possibilities, what could Cézanne be talking about?

Looking at Cézanne’s working method, we find that he painted mostly from direct observation. He often painted the same subject matter and his preoccupation was in exploration of formal and pictorial elements. He is said to be as accomplished painting still life, as he was with landscape and portraiture. The enigma is in Cézanne’s nudes.

Throughout his career, he avoided painting nude models as much as possible. He even confessed to Renoir, “Women models frighten me.”2 Instead, he worked from old drawings of nudes he sketched while still in school or he copied from the nude drawings of other artists. Some of his nudes, he paints without faces and he is ambiguous about defining gender.

We can look at how the subject of Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Oranges has been abstracted to simplified rounded organic forms defined by hue modeling and line. The plump full shape of these fruit reference the female body. The surface treatment of the forms is fleshy. The painting has also been staged in a manner reminiscent of how one might pose a reclining nude. White drapery, which is often used to “dress” a nude, is artfully arranged to draw the eye to the subject which in this painting are the apples and oranges. The composition is split horizontally so that the subject sprawls across the bottom two-thirds of the picture plane. The composition comes to a point in the middle to form a low triangle. The lighting is bright and natural and the palette warm and inviting.

Still Life with Apples and Oranges is a celebration of the female form. Returning to our idiom, that of “comparing apples to oranges,” Cézanne took a set of objects in this case fruit, arranged them in a situation which we call a still life, and referenced the female form. In doing this, he creates an objective correlative to mediate his feelings about female sexuality. In this way, his emotions found expression through art, giving the viewer an opportunity to share in his discovery.


1. “Apples and Oranges,” Wikipedia, accessed December 21, 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apples_and_oranges.

2. “The Eternal Feminine,” J. Paul Getty, accessed December 21, 2010, http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=931

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“Apples and Oranges,” WIKIART, http://www.wikiart.org/en/paul-cezanne/apples-and-oranges, (October 30, 2014)