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Traditional Artists- Still Life Studies

Updated on March 1, 2018
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Lynsey is a qualified Graphic Designer, who has a keen interest in art and design. She also enjoys DIY, crafting, photography and blogging.

I have recently come across some old exam preparation essays that I have written, and have decided to publish them as a helping hand to any other students out there. This is part of a comparison of expressive artists- this part looking at traditional artists, and the other part looking at contemporary artists.

Traditional, or Classic artists, are those who have created art before our time, and are generally the foundation of art as we know it. In this hub, I have compared two artists with such different styles as I find this easier to talk about, and it would be easy to compare and contrast them under exam conditions.

Henri Matisse- The Red Studio Oil on Canvas (1911)
Henri Matisse- The Red Studio Oil on Canvas (1911)

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse was born in December of 1869 in Le Cateau, France. He began his career by studying law, and during a period of illness in 1890, took up painting. In 1892, he went to study art formally in Paris and never returned to practice law, and has become one of the most identifiable artists of the 20th century. He has a number of influences: the decorative quality of Near Eastern art, the stylized forms of the masks and sculpture of African, the bright colours of the French impressionists, and the simplified forms of French artist Paul Cezanne and the cubists.

“The Red Studio” is a still life which shows a room full of paintings, perhaps his own studio? As suggested by the title, it is predominantly red in colour, with most of the furniture in the room made by suggestive thin white lines. In the foreground, to the left, on a table, is a box of candles and a wine glass, along with a few ornamental pieces. To the right, is a chair, subtly suggested by thin white lines. In the background there is a grandfather clock and a chest of drawers, suggested in the same way, as well as stacks of paintings which are represented in much more block colour. Most of these objects are illustrated from a flattened perspective, with the majority having no depth. There are also small statues and vases in the background, possible subject matter for other works? It is a very busy piece, cluttered with various objects, though this is made more subtle by the use of red filling a lot of these objects, to blend in with the background. The dominating use of the colour red may also be significant. It has connotations of love, passion, and luck, as well as danger, anger and fire, so I’m unsure as to whether it is being used to convey a particular emotion. Perhaps this idea is exactly what he’s looking for- to show that there is such a varied amount of emotions that go into his work.

All in all, “The Red Studio” isn’t a painting that I can truly appreciate. I believe the flat perspective makes it look more like a child’s illustration, rather than a world- renowned artist’s work, and certainly would not submit a piece of work like this for my own portfolio.

Paul Cezanne - Still Life with Basket of Apples Oil on Canvas (1894)
Paul Cezanne - Still Life with Basket of Apples Oil on Canvas (1894)

Which painting do you prefer?

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Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne was born in the French town of Aix-en-Provence, January 19, 1839. He developed artistic interests at an early age, which upset his father, who expected him to be a scholar, however after many family disputes; he went to study art in Paris where he was drawn to the Parisian art world. Cezanne went on to become a successful artist, almost single handily reviving the subject of still life at the time, and has influenced many 20th century artists such as Matisse and Picasso.

Still Life with Basket of Apples is one of Cezanne’s creations. It is made up of approximately 30 apples, spilling from a basket onto a table and white folded cloth in the foreground, and a bottle of wine, as well as a stack of what appears to be shortbread or biscuits on a saucer. The basket rests on a block, the biscuits on a platter set on a book, showing that the items have been specifically set up deliberately in this manner.

When we look at the panting, we notice that Cezanne’s use of suggestions of shadows helps in grounding the objects, despite the ground line, and the table edge in the immediate foreground being out of alignment. The colour is luminous, and clear, with use of shading in the large objects, more intense colour use in the small objects. There is strong use of shadows to exaggerate the folds in the cloth, and to confirm the placement of the objects. The texture appears to be smooth, with no distinct brush strokes, and a general subtle feel.

In my opinion, this painting, while being a tad unrealistic, is nicely put together. I like the strong use of light, as well as the varied use in colour; for example, the apples are all differently coloured, even subtly. Some artists may have applied an almost uniformed format to the apples, however Cezanne has approached each individually, which has definitely paid off, as we are left with a scattered, busy effect, which I feel he was trying to achieve.


The main difference between the two paintings is the difference in subject matter. While both are still life, Cezanne's is a more traditional composition- fruit in a bowl upon a table. Matisse, on the other hand has chosen to include the full room with furniture. There are also the novel paintings within the painting to focus on.

There is also the use of block colour in Matisse's painting, while Cezanne has used more subtlety in application of the colour, thus achieving a more balanced result. Matisse is more 2D, whereas Cezanne at least attempts to suggest depth and dimension.

There are many other valid points that could be made about the paintings, and the styles of the artists, most of which have been detailed in the individual sections, so all I would need to do to pull these together in an exam would be compare and contrast. This is how I recommend you prepare- write your individual sections first, then pull them all together!

Overall, remember that personal opinion goes a long way in an art exam. My preference is the Paul Cezanne painting, because I like the layout, the colour palette, and the general execution of the painting. I think he has created a well proportioned piece in terms of composition, and he has thought about drawing the eye to the focal point while including all of the objects. I never have been a fan of Matisse- big gasps- but that's OK too. Remember, even if you dislike a piece of art, you are allowed to, as long as you give balanced, well articulated reasoning behind why you don't like it!

Even then, I doubt I would ever really hang any of these in my home- unless I had a traditional thatched cottage with a farmers kitchen, then I could perhaps fit in the Cezanne piece. Oh, and a spare few thousand in the bank... that would help, too!

© 2013 Lynsey Hart


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    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      6 years ago from Lanarkshire

      That is a good point! I hadn't considered that. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    • Alex Adelman profile image

      Alex Adelman 

      6 years ago from Oakland Hills, CA

      Cezanne's somewhat two-dimensional approach leaves me to believe that he intends to show as much of the apple display as possible by tilting the perspectives at different points. For example, as you said, the table is not at a realistic angle.

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      7 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Thanks! Check out my hub on contemporary artists as well- there is an artist called Jeffrey Hayes that I absolutely love!!!!! :) Super realistic!!!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      7 years ago

      I agree with you. I love the still life of the basket of apples. That's my favorite too. I love to hear the stories behind an artist's work. Very interesting!


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