Painted in 1889-90, Les Pommes encapsulates Cézanne’s artistic achievement, and displays the brilliance and economy which characterize his best work. This strikingly modern composition foregrounds the artist's unrivaled facility with the medium and his ability to imbue a still-life with all of the subtlety and emotional potency of portraiture.\n\nCézanne’s still-lifes have long been recognized among his greatest achievements, the works which demonstrate most clearly the innovations that led to the stylistic developments of early twentieth-century art. His vision breathed new life into the tradition of still-life painting, and his accomplishments had a profound impact on the generations of artists that followed. Picasso proclaimed that “Cézanne was like the father of us all,” and this statement has remained true to this day, with his painting, particularly still-lifes, continuing to influence artists in the twenty-first century (fig. 6).\n\nCézanne executed a powerful series of medium-scaled still-lifes during the 1880s. His depictions of fruit from this period focus on the inherent geometry of objects and explore the spatial problems of representing three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface. In the present oil, several apples are arranged in a pyramid-like shape on a plate, mirrored by an adjacent grouping, on a simple, unadorned surface. Two partially visible apples, disappearing beyond the scope of the picture on the right, emphasize the artist’s radical framing. A dynamic composition is achieved through a contrast between the rounded shapes of the apples and the plate on one hand, and the pronounced horizontal of the background and the table-top on the other. Cézanne’s still-life series became increasingly complex, and would culminate in celebrated paintings such as Les grosses pommes of circa 1890 (fig. 4) and Rideau, cruchon et compotier painted in 1893-94 (fig. 3).\n\nCézanne initially approached the genre during the first decade of his artistic production, the 1860s. He executed a number of varied still-lifes, romantic in feeling and based on close observation of reality. In the subsequent decades, his pictorial language became more sophisticated and his compositions more complex (fig. 6). Richard Kendall wrote about Cézanne’s mature paintings: “By this stage in his career, the still-life had taken on a special significance for [Cézanne], and he was to become one of the most original and dedicated exponents of the form. Far from being just a pretext for picture-making, the groups of apples, pears, cherries or flowers were for Cézanne as much a part of nature’s extravagant beauty as the trees and hillsides of Provence, and as likely to produce his ‘vibrating sensations’ as the landscape itself. According to Joachim Gasquet, Cézanne once claimed to overhear conversations between the fruit he was painting, and approached each item in a group as he would a human portrait” (Richard Kendall, Cézanne by Himself: Drawings, Paintings, Writings, London, 1988, p. 11).\n\nLes Pommes imparts the full range of expressive potential that Gasquet identified in Cézanne's still-lifes. The apples are constructed through careful geometries and intrusions of bright yellow tones. Cézanne grounds the gentle curves of the fruit with a clear horizon line provided by the table's back edge. He creates a sense of space and volume that gives the fruit a palpable presence - there is an intrinsic logic to the composition wholly unique to Cézanne's artistic vision.\n\nCézanne’s mature still-lifes are considered the harbingers of twentieth-century Modernism, and provided a key inspiration for the Cubist compositions of Picasso and Braque (fig. 2). As they formulated a new artistic language during the early years of Cubism, these artists were inspired by Cézanne’s radical approach to form. Although Cézanne’s art was well known and widely exhibited during his lifetime, the first major retrospective of his work was held at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1907, a year after his death. This comprehensive view of his oeuvre was an instant inspiration to many artists, including Juan Gris and Henri Matisse (fig. 7).\n\nFor all its modernism and avant-garde style, Les pommes, like other still-lifes Cézanne executed throughout his career, finds its origins in the trompe-l’oeil compositions of the French Old Masters that he had studied at the Louvre. Like his forebears, Cézanne set out to capture the essence and allure of each object in his works. His approach, however, was rooted in a truly modern belief that “Painting does not mean slavishly copying the object: it means perceiving harmony amongst numerous relationships and transposing them into a system of one’s own by developing them according to a new, original logic” (quoted in Richard Kendall, op. cit., p. 298).\n\nBoth art historians and artists have argued that Cézanne reached the very pinnacle of his genius within the genre of still-life. This genre – unlike portrait or plein air painting – allowed him the greatest time in which to capture his subject, since in the studio environment he could create and control the composition, arranging the elements in ways that provided an infinite variety of formal problems to be solved on the canvas. The young painter Louis le Bail described how Cézanne composed a still-life, reflecting the great care and deliberation with which he approached the process: “Cézanne arranged the fruits, contrasting the tones one against the other, making the complementaries vibrate, balancing the fruits as he wanted them to be, using coins of one or two sous for the purpose. He brought to this task the greatest care and many precautions; one guessed it was a feast for him. When he finished, Cézanne explained to his young colleague, ‘The main thing is the modeling; one should not even say modeling, but modulating’” (quoted in John Rewald, Cézanne: A Biography, New York, 1986, p. 228).\n\nDiscussing Cézanne’s still-life paintings, the English artist and critic Roger Fry noted that he “is distinguished among artists of the highest rank by the fact that he devoted so large a part of his time to this class of picture, that he achieved in still-life the expression of the most exalted feelings and the deepest intuitions of his nature. Rembrandt alone, and only in the rarest examples, or in accessories, can be compared to him in this respect. For one cannot deny that Cézanne gave a new character to his still-lifes. Nothing else but still-life allowed him sufficient calm and leisure, and admitted all the delays which were necessary to him for plumbing the depths of his idea. But there, before the still-life, put together not with too ephemeral flowers, but with onions, apples, or other robust and long-enduring fruits, he could pursue till it was exhausted his probing analysis of the chromatic whole. But through the bewildering labyrinth of this analysis he held always like Ariadne’s thread, the notion that the changes of color correspond to movements of planes. He sought always to trace this correspondence throughout all the diverse modifications which changes of local color introduced into the observed resultant… it is hard to exaggerate their importance in the expression of Cézanne’s genius or the necessity of studying them for its comprehension, because it is in them that he appears to have established his principles of design and theories of form” (Roger Fry, Cézanne: A Study of his Development, Chicago, 1927, pp. 37 & 50).\n\nLes Pommes has a remarkable provenance. Having first belonged to Cézanne’s dealer, Ambroise Vollard, it was later acquired by the prominent Dutch collector Cornelis Hoogendijk (1867-1911), who gathered a large number of Old Master and Modernist works. He accumulated one of the most important collections in Holland and beyond at the turn of the twentieth century. In a buying frenzy that lasted between 1897 and 1899, he acquired over thirty paintings and watercolors by Cézanne from Vollard. Some years after Hoogendijk’s death, the Paris dealer Paul Rosenberg purchased a number of Cézanne works from his estate, and sold them almost immediately to museums and French collectors. The present work was sold to the Parisian collector Jacques Laroche, whose collection included one of Cézanne’s famous self-portraits later donated to the Musée du Louvre. Les Pommes later came into the possession of the industrialist and distinguished collector of Modern art Marcel Kapferer, whose collection was sold at the Galerie Charpentier in Paris in 1934. The painting has been in the Lewyt family collection for almost sixty years.