... there are paintings by Cézanne which are not so easily understood. In an illustration, a still life such as the figure may not look too promising. How ankward is seems if we compare it with the assured treatment of a similar subject by the Dutch seventeenth-century master Kalf (figure down)! The fruit-bowl is so clumsily drawn that its foot does not even rest in the middle. The table not only slopes from left to right, it also looks as if it were tilted forward. Where the Dutch master excelled in the rendering of soft and fluffy surfaces, Cézanne gives us a patchwork of colour dabs, which make the napkin look as if it were made of tinfoil. Small wonder that Cézanne's paintings were at first derided as pathetic daubs. But the reason for this apparent clumsiness is not far to seek. Cézanne had ceased to take any of the traditional methods of painting for granted. He had decided to start from scratch as if no painting had been done before him. The Dutch master had painted his still life to display his stupendous virtuosity. Cézanne had chosen his motifs to study some specific problems that he wanted to solve. We know that he was fascinated by the relation of colour to modelling. A brightly  coloured round solid such as an apple was an ideal motif to explore this question. We know that he was interested in the achievement  of a balanced design. That is why he stretched the bowl to the left as to fill a void. As he wanted to study all the shapes on the table in their relationships he simply tilted it forward to make them come into view.

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Still Life with Compotier


18 1/8 x 21 5/8"

Collection Mr. and Mrs. Rene Lecomte, Paris


Perhaps the example shows how it happened that Cézanne became the father of "modern art". In his tremendous effort to achieve a sense of depth without sacrificing the brightness of colours, to achieve an orderly arrangement without sacrificing the sense of depth - in all the struggles and gropings there was one thing he was prepared to sacrifice if need be: the conventional "correctness" of outline. He was not out  to distort nature; but he did not mind very much if  it became distorted in some minor detail provided this helped him to obtain the desired effect..................................

Cézanne did not aim at creating an illusion. He wanted rather to convey the feeling of solidity and depth, and he found he could do that without conventional draughtsmanship. He hardly realized that this example of indifference to "correct drawing" would start a landslide in art.

 (E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art. Phaidon, London, 1995, Reprinted 1999).




Still Life with Drinking Horn

Full title: 'Still Life with the Drinking-Horn of the Saint Sebastian Archers' Guild, Lobster and Glasses'

about 1653


KALF, Willem

1619 - 1693

Oil on canvas

86.4 x 102.2 cm.



Signed, lower left: W.Kalf

The drinking-horn in this still life was made of a single buffalo horn set into a silver mount which features Saint Sebastian, patron saint of archers, who was bound to a tree as a target for two Roman soldiers. It dates from 1565 and is kept today in the Amsterdam Historisch Museum. The horn suggests that the painting was probably commissioned by a member of the Amsterdam archers' guild.

The artist has chosen the objects shown for their magnificent colour and texture. The sparkle of the lobster, the gleam of the lemon, the subtle texture of the carpet, all demonstrate the play of light over different surfaces. A contemporary viewer would have recognised the objects as expensive luxury items that only the wealthy would have been able to afford.