Pyramid of Skulls

Pyramid of Skulls
Artist Paul Cézanne
Year c. 1901
Medium oil on canvas
Location Private collection
Dimensions 14.5 in × 17.9 cm
37 cm × 45.5 cm
Famous Paintings by Cézanne
Pyramid of Skulls
The Bathers
The Card Players
The Basket of Apples
Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier
A Modern Olympia
Complete Works

Pyramid of Skulls is oil on canvas painting by the post-impressionist French artist, Paul Cézanne, which was completed around 1901 when the artist was in his sixties.


Despite the stark realism and morbidity of the subject matter, the painting is very evocative. There are four human skulls shown in the painting, three of which face forward directly from the painting, giving the impression that they are staring at the viewer.

Two of these skulls are laid beside each other, and the third skull sits on top of these two. The fourth skull is lying down on the back of the head behind the three forward facing skulls, and is only partially visible.

The three forward facing skulls are painted in vivid light and color. The partially visible skull at the rear is much darker, and more akin to the painting’s background.

The painting is a unique Cezanne still life in that no other work by the artist places the subject so close to the viewer.

Interest in Skulls

Cezanne painted several compositions that featured skulls. The earliest dates from around 1867, but nearly all of the skull paintings were done between 1895 and the artist’s death in 1906.

Opinion is divided on why the painter was interested in skulls. During the period when most of these pictures were painted, Cezanne was clearly in a very depressed mood and obsessed with his own impending death. This is known from various letters he wrote and conversations he had with his few friends. At the time, Cezanne had become quite reclusive and indicated that he was finding life monotonous and meaningless. Many experts think that his state of mind is revealed in the choice of subject matter.

However, there are others who think that Cezanne was inspired by the actual structure of skulls and point out the similarities between the skull compositions and other still life works and self-portraits by the painter.

2 responses to “Pyramid of Skulls”

  1. Bob says:

    It’s a good painting

  2. warren says:

    Paul Cezanne could have just been fascinated with skulls and the appearance, but his artworks are sometimes nightmarish alluding to the idea that he expresses his outlook on life through his art.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *