Study of a Skull (Etude de crâne)

Study of a Skull (Etude de crâne)

photo: Bruce M. White
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About This Work

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906)
Study of a Skull, 1902–04
Watercolor and graphite on buff wove paper
22.9 x 31 cm. (9 x 12 3/16 in.)


Artist’s son, Paul Cézanne (1872–1947), Paris; [sold to Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 11 Mar. 1907]. [Paul Cassirer (1871–1926), Berlin]. Georg T. Reinhart (1877–1955), Winterthur, Switzerland, by 1922; by descent to estate of Georg T. Reinhart. [Peter and Fritz Nathan, Zurich]; Henry Pearlman, by Mar. 1956; Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, 1982.

Critical Perspective

This watercolor belongs to a group of late pictures of skulls, a theme that Cézanne had dealt with early in his career, when he was clearly interested in their symbolic value. Here, the skull is treated almost as an academic exercise, with the repeated contour lines demonstrating the artist’s preoccupation with drawing the complex volumes of a cranial sphere.

By reducing everything else to a series of lines and shapes—including the books possibly indicated in the background—Cézanne emphasized the stark reality of the skull.