The first thing to note about this drawing of a thistle is how so much can be achieved with so few strokes of a pencil or brush, for those with the most talented of minds. Often much can be achieved in areas of composition without even doing anything, such as with the suggestion of light for example. In this case we find Cezanne practicing a still life depiction that differs from everything else included within the same sketchbook. Whilst Cezanne is famous for still life paintings, most would include different elements to this, such as apples, oranges and other everyday items that he found within his own home. He was certainly someone who liked to be involved in nature, and was undeniably happiest when living out in the French countryside. He most likely would have come across this thistle whilst out on one of his many strolls which helped to keep his mind fresh and clear.
This entry into the sketchbook features a single thistle lying on its side, perhaps placed on a table or simple cloth for the artist to be able to sketch it. One half of this page is left entirely blank, but in other cases within this sketchbook he would actually cram several different studies together. There is also a landscape drawing that stretches right across two adjoining pages. He used these books to work whenever the urge took him and would happily travel around the countryside in search of new ideas and inspirations. He also completed a number of portraits in his own home, some of himself, some of his mother and son. He continued to draw throughout his lifetime and saw this discipline as key to his base of technical understanding, just as many academics have done for centuries.
Many artists have taken flowers and plants for the purposes of practicing their art, enjoying the ease with which they can work in this way as well as the beauty found within items that grow close by. Thistles themselves are incredibly hardy plants which can grow in almost any climate, and so would have been found close to the artist's home, sprouting up all over the place in a variety of conditions. It is an unusual plant in that there is a true beauty to it, but also the harshness that comes from something that has learnt to adapt to cold and windy conditions. In terms of drawing plants, we perhaps best remember Albrecht Durer, who was a multi-skilled member of the Northern Renaissance fron Nuremburg, who used his father's books on botany to practice his craft in the early days of his career.