Pablo PICASSO | Large still-life [Grande nature morte]

Spain 1881 – France 1973

Large still-life
[Grande nature morte]
oil on canvas
canvas 87.0 (h) x 116.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection
© RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Each generation of Cézanne devotees interprets his art in a different light. Picasso was one of many artists who claimed a direct artistic descendancy from Cézanne. (He was like ‘our father’, Picasso was later to recall.) Other followers had been Gauguin, the Nabis and, later, Henri Matisse and the Fauves, and George Braque and the Cubists. By 1906 Cézanne’s influence was ‘everywhere’, according to Picasso, in one of his rare published comments on the master’s influence: ‘The art of composition, of the opposition of forms and of rhythms of colours was rapidly becoming commonplace.’1

A major retrospective of Cézanne’s work held in October 1907 at the Salon d’Automne furthered the older artist’s authority on a younger generation. Each artist had interpreted Cézanne in their own way and harnessed his lessons in their own artistic development. In Picasso’s case, the effect was profound, his response dramatic. Beginning with reinterpretations of Cézanne’s bathers, Picasso went on to explore that other great motif of the older artist—the still-life. Adopting Cézanne’s spatial ploy of tilting the picture plane towards the viewer, Picasso was able to more fully understand the volume of his subject.

In his early Cubist phase and under the influence of Cézanne, Picasso (along with Braque) revealed the depth of a subject by depicting its different planes and adopting Cézanne’s painting technique of laying down hatched brushstrokes of paint. In this way, the radical young Cubists broke down the tradition of three-dimensional space and replaced it with the depiction of a subject from multiple viewpoints.

In his later Cubist explorations, Picasso went on to dissect his own process. In Large still-life he has taken Cézanne’s favoured still-life motifs—a wine bottle, a glass, a flask and a fruit bowl—extracted these individual elements, destroyed them, and then reconfigured them. Taking yet another favourite object from Cézanne’s repertoire, the table, Picasso has cropped it just as Cézanne would, but let it hover in space within the canvas. The table and its contents are tilted towards the viewer in the manner of Cézanne—but it is as if Picasso has pulled them to pieces and then returned them to their tabletop in a new and radically distorted appearance.

Jane Kinsman

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

  1. Quoted in John Elderfield, ‘Picasso’s extreme Cézanne’, in Cézanne and beyond, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Art Museum 2009, p. 213. This essay provides both a masterful summary and interpretation of the influence of the older artist on Picasso.