It's a compact show, just 21 paintings - 20 oils and a watercolor - borrowed from museums and private collections around the world. Apples and fruit abound, but so do vases of flowers, the aforementioned skulls (one borrowed from the Detroit Institute of Art), and wine bottles aplenty. All on exhibition at the Barnes Foundation, famous, in part, for its vast Cézanne holdings.
"Cézanne has been done in every which way," said Benedict Leca, director of curatorial affairs at the Hamilton art gallery, who conceived of the show and pulled it together. "There have been a series of exhibitions tracing his career, exploring his context, looking at his technique. . . . But there has never been an exhibition of Cézanne still-life paintings. This is one aspect of his work that hasn't been treated."
Judith F. Dolkart, the Barnes curator who worked with Leca on the show but has since departed from the Barnes to become director of the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass., noted that the Barnes collection holds 69 canvases by Cézanne - landscapes and portraits, along with 16 still lifes. (The Barnes has created a new audio guide for its Cézannes.)
"In the Barnes," Dolkart said, "we have the breadth of his production." With this show, visitors will be able to look at a segment of the postimpressionist's work and explore it in depth, she noted.
Plus, particular works in the "Apple" exhibition are closely related to works in the Barnes' permanent collection.
"There are brother and sister works," she said.
Leca, who edited the exhibition's hefty 240-page catalog, argued that while there never has been a Cézanne show exclusively exploring his still-life compositions, it is the genre in which Cézanne "has the most control and is the most experimental."
Moving closer to a canvas showing a yellow table thrusting to the foreground, and several scattered apples, an ochre pitcher, a bunched drapery to the left, and indefinite but close space behind, Leca showed exactly how Cézanne used the still-life genre to experiment with space and form.
"People talk about his structure and stability," Leca said, pointing to the canvas. "Look at the way this painting is divided - the open background, the accretion of objects. . . . That kind of arrangement allows him to create this composition, which is simple on the one hand and highly thought through on the other."
It so happens, Dolkart said, that the canvas in question, Pitcher and Fruits on a Table (1893-95), was once owned by Albert Barnes, collector extraordinaire and progenitor of the foundation. He swapped it, probably for another Cézanne, but records are unclear which painting in the foundation's collection can be traced to the swap. ( Pitcher and Fruits is now in a private collection.)
"It's interesting to see it," Dolkart said, "not among its former family members."
Apples abound in this small show, obviously, but so do certain specific objects, and a visitor becomes familiar with the ochre pitcher, the blue-rimmed dish, the yellow table, the ginger jar. Cézanne used them over and over again, combining them in ever-more-carefully constructed arrangements.
These objects are also seen in the Barnes collection, like old vagabond friends moving from house to house.
"The table is a familiar player," Dolkart said. "The blue-edge plate is seen in many works. The ginger jar is in the galleries. It's so interesting how he's constantly rearranging them. We call them 'characters.' "
Leca said the Barnes is the ideal place to view these "characters" and to understand how Cézanne worked and reworked them into domestic landscapes of apples rising and massing like mountains; tabletops upturning into a hazy horizon; voluptuous, peasantlike bottles towering over fallen fruits.
"Philadelphia is one of the epicenters of Cézanne studies," Leca said. "I can't think of a better place for this than Philadelphia. An historic first show of Cézanne still lifes at the Barnes Foundation - it all came together."
The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne
June 22-Sept. 22 at the Barnes Foundation, 20th Street and the Parkway.
Information: 215-278-7200 or www.barnesfoundation.org.