This still life-one of the very few works signed and dated by Cezanne-was doubtless painted for exhibition at the Salon of 1865, but of course was refused by the jury.' It might be one of the canvases about which the painter remarked, in a letter to Pissarro dated March 15, 1865, that they were likely to "make the Institute blush from rage and despair.", For, as he was to do so often in the 1860s, Cezanne violated a hallowed norm: this still life against a dark background, in a style seemingly inspired by the Spanish masters, is composed not of the makings of a luxurious repast but of the cheap utensils and the meager fare of a poor artist. Many realist painters before him, notably Theodule Ribot and Antoine Vollon, had made a specialty of such austere canvases. Working in a restricted palette, they used all their skill to render the play of light and shadow, deploying refined points of luminosity to evoke sparkling glass and metal, amply illuminating an object or plunging it into shadow virtually to the point of invisibility. Cezanne, however, placed his similarly illuminated motifs against a uniform black ground-Rainer Maria Rilke would write of Cezanne's still lifes "hoarded by darkness"-from which the wood of the table is scarcely distinguishable. Whereas the realist petits maitres, eyeing their Dutch counterparts, painted in a manner that was unctuous and caressing, Cezanne employed broad, variable handling that gives the canvas a certain tartness and makes his predecessors' tranquil compositions seem constricted and dull. The influences of both the Spanish tradition and Chardin, whose work enjoyed a revival in the 1860s, have rightly been discerned in this work; however, as early as December 1865, Marius Roux, a friend of Cezanne's, in one of the very first articles devoted to him, stressed the limited value of such comparisons: "A great admirer of Ribera and ZurbarAn, our painter goes his own way. 114 This aggressiveness and strength seduced Manet, despite his different take on the Spanish school; in 1866 he saw several Cezanne still lifes at Antoine Guillemet's home and found them 'powerfully treated." Cezanne was pleased with this pronouncement, but he downplayed it, as was his wont; it was recorded by his friend Antony Valabregue, who predicted the development of an artistic complicity: "Parallel temperaments, they will surely understand one another."
by Isabelle Cahn, Henri Loyrette, Joseph J. Rishel