Paul Cezanne : Still Life

Overview Artist Biography Planning Ahead Materials & Setup Class Discussion Project Directions Reflections Downloads & Resources Docent Forum


Still Life 1890–94, oil on canvas, 12.75 in. x 16 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze Cezanne’s Still Life and the composition of fruits and objects
  • Identify use of line, color, shape, textures, and space in the painting
  • Learn about Cezanne’s Post-Impressionist style and his desire to show form
  • Sketch fruits and vegetables, using basic shapes and observing details
  • Color fruits in primary and secondary colors, using a digital paint app
  • Arrange still life objects in balanced compositions and use highlights and shadows to show form

Lesson Teaching Notes

A document of summary pages on the lesson’s Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Artist Points, and Project Directions.

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Materials and Setup

Materials List
  • Digital Device (e.g. computer or tablet)
  • Digital Paint App on the device
    • Some suggestions: Adobe Draw , Brushes Redux, Paper 53, Sketch Pad, or Sketchbook Edu – some are iPad and/or Android apps, some may have computer versions as well.
Setup Directions
  • Preload digital devices with the desired digital paint app.
  • Familiarize yourself with the user interface of the digital paint app.
  • Consider having a separate short class session to learn about the digital paint app, before teaching a digital art lesson.

Photos of Setup

Class Discussion

What style did Cezanne use?
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Style - Post Impressionist

Cezanne painted in the Post-Impressionist style, with an emphasis on color and form rather than finished detail. He used the style of heavy brushstrokes that was typical of painters of his time.

Why did Cezanne paint fruit?
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Style - Still Life

Cezanne, like other artists, loved to paint still-life compositions, such as flowers, fruits, or objects on a table. He could arrange them any way he wanted to make them seem alive. Still-life objects are easier to paint; they sit still. When Cezanne painted people, it made him angry when they moved. He would say to them, “Sit still like an apple.”

Which fruit in this still life would Cezanne pick up to eat first?
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Design - Composition

The lemon in this painting is the brightest fruit and attracts our attention first, but lemons are too sour to eat. It has fallen off the plate. Removing it would unbalance the picture. The orange at the center of the plate is bright and tempting, but if it were moved, the apple above it would roll down. This composition is carefully arranged and Cezanne can only paint it, not eat it.

Is this composition balanced?
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Design - Balance

Cezanne balanced the objects so each piece of fruit is important. They form a flat triangle on the round plate. Their round shapes are repeated in the round platter and jug. The bright fruits balance the large jug and make our eyes move around the painting. If the lemon or the jug were removed, the still life would no longer feel balanced.

What main shape did Cezanne use to unify this painting?
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Design - Unity

Cezanne gave unity to the composition by repeating a round shape for the fruit in the pitcher and its lip, the designs on the table cloth, the edge of the table, and the fruit bowl. A round chair back hides behind the pitcher.

How do repeated shapes give rhythm?
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Design - Repetition

Repeated round shapes give rhythm to the composition. Our eye moves easily from the pitcher to the fruit, to the bowl and table. If a different shaped fruit, like a banana, were placed in the bowl, it would interrupt the rhythm.

How do the edges show form?
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Lines - Contour/Thick/Thin

Cezanne painted curving, shaded contour lines to show the rounded edges of the fruit. He painted a dark outline surrounding the pitcher, and he added shading on its surface to give it form. The edge of the table is shown with a simple, flat outline.

Thick lines on the tablecloth and background are made with strong, even brushstrokes, repeated in patches of blue, gray, and green. They make a pattern in the background.

Thin, careful brush strokes add detail and texture to the fruits and background. They add highlights and shading to show form.

What are the main colors used by Cezanne?
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Color - Primary/Secondary/Warm/Cool

Our eyes are attracted to the primary colors in the bright red apples, yellow lemon, blue pitcher, table cloth, and background. The blue background and red and yellow fruits dominate the painting. A red stripe on the blue pitcher’s lip and handle contrasts with the blue, making us notice the pitcher. Bright red and yellow fruits attract our attention.

Secondary colors are seen in the oranges, green apples, and violet shading on the pitcher. They add contrast and variety.

The warm colors of the fruit make them look delicious and tempting.

Cool colors in the background create a quiet mood, making the fruits livelier.

How did Cezanne make the fruit on a flat canvas look round?
Play Video From Here
Shape - Form

The fruits are painted with curving brush strokes and highlights and shadows that give them form. The pitcher looks rounded because of the highlight on its middle and the dark shadows on its right-hand side. Highlights and shadows make the fruit and pitcher appear to pop out, as though they were 3-D.

How does light create form?
Play Video From Here
Shape - Light Source/Highlights/Shading

The light source is from the top left, behind the observer’s left shoulder. This light hits the objects that stick out.

Highlights shine on the green apple and the orange, the pitcher, and the rim of the bowl shine in the light, making them appear to project, or pop out from the flat canvas.

Dark shading on the lower side of the fruits, pitcher, and table cloth, show where the light doesn’t reach. These shadowy areas appear to recede, or hide, making them appear farther away.

How does texture make this painting more realistic?
Play Video From Here
Texture - Visual

The visual texture on the fruits looks rough, like the real texture of fruits. The rough textures of the drape and oranges contrast with the smooth surface of the green apple and the pitcher.

Download Discussion Questions
Download Key Concepts


Project Directions

Still Life Fruit

  1. Create a new project or canvas.
  2. Choose a color for your table and draw a line through the center of your canvas. Fill in the tabletop and add some details with a smaller brush or pen tool.
  3. Choose a color for the wall and fill in the space above the table. Add pattern to your wallpaper, if you like.
  4. Paint three or four fruits of varying shapes, sizes and colors in the center of the table. It’s best to first draw the outlines of the fruit, and then fill them in with a larger brush. Keep in mind a light source – like the top left corner of your canvas – to ensure consistent shading.
  5. Choose a lighter shade of a fruit’s color and add highlights to your fruit where the light would fall.
  6. Choose a darker shade of a fruit’s color, and add some shadows on the opposite side of the highlight. Repeat this process of adding highlights and shadows.
  7. Choose a color for your bowl and draw its outline on the table. The outline should cover the bottoms of the fruit so it appears that they are inside the bowl. Color in your bowl and add shading usiing the same technique you used for the fruit.
  8. Draw and shade a piece of fruit outside the bowl.
  9. Save your project to gallery and if you have time, start a new one!


  • If paint app does not have layers, moving and resizing objects is not available, as shown in the video.
  • Create a new layer for each object you draw and fill (like table, wall, each fruit, etc.). Make sure layers are set to 100% opacity.
  • For highlights and shades, set color opacity to 40%.


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