Paul CÉZANNE | Still-life with onions [Nature morte aux oignons]

France 1839 – 1906

Still-life with onions
[Nature morte aux oignons]
oil on canvas
canvas 66.0 (h) x 82.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Bequest of Auguste Pellerin 1929
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

A cluttered table displaying an array of onions, a knife, a wine bottle, a glass and a draped cloth, highlight Paul Cézanne’s delight in the pleasures of country life in Aix-en-Provence. This rustic scene is completed by the roughly plastered grey rear wall, which contrasts with the reddish-brown onions and white cloth. A table from the artist’s studio is cropped to disguise other ingredients enabling us to view the folds of the cloth as it falls to the floor.

In this painting the artist uses onions as compositional tools to help him experiment with colour and space. With various gradations of colour and stages of sprouting, the onions display individual attributes.

Cézanne likened the still-life genre to portraiture. He was fascinated by the individual characteristics of different fruit and vegetables and commented that, “they come to you with all their aromas and tell you about the fields that they left, about the rain that nourished them, about the dawns they watched”.

Cezanne’s distinctive contribution to the tradition of still-life was inspired by a retrospective of the work of the eighteenth century French artist Jean- Baptiste-Siméon Chardin.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay