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Cézanne: Still Life with Plaster Cast

The fall of light, the signature and the flying carpet

Which way does the light fall?

Why does the foot of the plaster cupid cast a shadow directly behind it, but under the armpit is a shadow which falls to the left? Conventional methods dictated that there should be a constant source of light in the studio casting unchanging shadows. But in reality shadows change and move. Faithful to his self-imposed obligation to paint only what he sees, Cézanne has painted a shadow true to the light and time of day at the moment he painted that foot. The shadow under the armpit is what he observed at the time he painted that part of the plaster cupid. It is a convincing "give away" of his working methods and his dedication to his basic principles.

Why didn't he sign it?

Cézanne's painstaking process of recording his exact perception could never be finished, because every time he returned to the still life there was something new to see. By moving his head to the left or the right he would perceive different relationships between objects. So he could never apply the last brush stroke and say "it is finished, I have painted everything that is there and everything there is to see". There is no signature on this painting and very few of his paintings are signed - his signature would imply a finality which for him was impossible to achieve.

Is that a flying carpet?

Why does the blue cloth rise into the air? How does it support two pieces of fruit? It is because we are looking at two different blue cloths. On the table to the left of the dish is a piece of "real" blue cloth. The blue cloth with the two pieces of fruit is not "real". It is a painting of a blue cloth with two pieces of fruit which is leaning against the wall of the studio. (It is called Still Life with Peppermint bottle and is in the National Gallery of art in Washington). Here Cézanne presents us with a picture within a picture, and he deliberately confuses the boundary where the "real" blue cloth ends and the painted blue cloth begins. He is teasing us, and reminding us that all art is an illusion, sometimes a very complex one.

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