Post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne was devoted to still life painting throughout his career. A show now at Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation celebrates the painter's contributions to the genre by bringing together 21 paintings from outside of the foundation's own collection.
"The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne" (through Sept. 22) is organized by Barnes deputy director of art and archival collections and chief curator Judith Dolkart alongside Benedict Leca, director of curatorial affairs at Ontario's Art Gallery of Hamilton. Including many of Cézanne's hallmark subjects—fruits, ginger pots and skulls are all well represented—"The World Is an Apple" traces the evolution of the painter's still life painting from early works like Sugar Bowl, Pears, and Blue Cup (ca. 1866) to such classics as The Kitchen Table (ca. 1890) and Fruit and Ginger Pot (1890-93).
With works from numerous public and private collections internationally, the show unites pieces from the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Musee d'Orsay (Paris), Stiftung Langmatt (Baden) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York).
Dolkart talked to A.i.A. via e-mail about the inspiration for the show, founder Albert C. Barnes's appreciation for Cézanne, and her own personal highlights.
MATTHEW SHEN GOODMAN What prompted the exhibition?
JUDITH DOLKART Cézanne declared his ambitions for the lowliest of genres when he vowed to astound Paris with an apple, a humble, earthy object. We can see in his still lifes the distortions of space and objects that have become absolute hallmarks of his work, as well as his signature brushwork. Still life allows the artist to have absolute control of the subject matter through the selection and arrangement of objects. Cézanne consistently used the same props over and over again, demonstrating just how creative he was, just how much he challenged himself—up until the very end—to create new "sensations" and new works.
SHEN GOODMAN How does this show relate to the Cézanne works in the permanent collection?
DOLKART In a 1915 letter to [collector and critic] Leo Stein, Barnes wrote: "I love his crudity, his baldness of statements, his apparent lack of skill in the handicraft of painting, and the absolute sincerity of the man." He embraced the very qualities of Cézanne's paintings that the critics had assailed. He really understood Cézanne right away, and there are 69 works by the artist in the collection, including 16 still lifes. So we can see brother and sister works in which the artist uses the same props or assembles similar objects, but looks at them from slightly different points of view. Interestingly, Cézanne was an artist who was keen to communicate his "sensation," and Barnes spent his life trying to understand the way in which artists see—a way of seeing and feeling that he felt was truly particular to artists.
SHEN GOODMAN Do you have a favorite piece in "The World Is an Apple"?
DOLKART I think that the Musée d'Orsay's The Kitchen Table is an absolute manifesto of still life painting in its complexity and perhaps in its meditation on representation, and Three Skulls  from the Detroit Institute of Arts is a marvel of brushwork—and a reminder of the wonders of that collection. But there are two works from private collections that have also seduced me: Apples and Cakes [1873-77] and Pitcher and Fruits on a Table [1893-95]. In the former you see the incredible way in which Cézanne treats foreground and background in the same manner, plus the colors are intensely saturated. And with Pitcher and Fruits on a Table, which Barnes had once owned but at some point traded (as he often did) for another painting or paintings, we get to bring a work back into conversation with its "family."