For this research, I was to look at the work of some of the 17th Century Dutch still life and flower painters. Make notes on paintings that I especially admire and find out more about the techniques that were employed at the time. Then research at least 1 painting that has iconographic significance. Which of the objects depicted carry particular meaning and what was that meaning?
Then explore the development of still life through the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For example, look at how traditional still life subjects were dealt with in some early Cubist painting by Braque and Picasso, investigate how some contemporary artists are interpreting this genre.
17th Century was known as the Golden Age it was a time when the Netherlands was recovering from the ravages of war with Spain, a time when their National pride helped develop their artistic heritage. Still life although not thought of on the same level as other genre was becoming very popular. The more affluent were able to furnish their houses and the need for art grew. Artwork was also created smaller to increase affordability. Still life was more than just subject painting it had meaning and stimulated the thoughts. Vanitas painting was a form of still life it was about beauty and how this can fade over time. One of my favourite still life artists of this time is Pieter Claesz his Vanitas paintings are really powerful. I feel this is showing the end, the end of time as the watch lays like it has had its last tic toc, the glass on the side empty seems to say its pleasure has gone. The skull showing all that remains of life. We may not see things in the same way, but we all see the meaning. It is so beautifully painted. The brushstrokes look delicate and I would love to see it in the flesh so to speak.
Having looked at the 17th Century flower painters I enjoy the work by the artist called Jan Davidsz De Heem his work moved away from the almost sterile statuesque style, to one which showed movement and was inclusive of fauna, although as can be seen by the bouquet shown below- one of my favourites- he still followed a loose triangle in shape. I love the way some of the bouquet spills over the lip of the table giving a depth to the picture. The blooms placed together may not be in bloom at the same time and were unlikely to have been painted direct from the vase, it is more likely they were painted from sketches either drawn earlier or from bought, borrowed images. The other thing I like about this painting are the insects that appear within the bouquet, every time I look I see another.
Not only is this arrangement far more natural in the flower placement, there seems to be a meaning within the picture, the expensive blooms of tulips, which could in some cases cost more than a man’s yearly wage, appear throughout, within the same bouquet are grasses and pea pods. It makes you think that it doesn’t matter how beautiful or how much something is worth, we are all going to suffer the same fate and experiences. I wonder if this is the reason for the insects seen crawling in and out of the flowers.
The Dessert Still Life by De Heem below is part of one of his more elaborate pieces, these were known as Pronkstilleven. The beautiful centre pieces and enormous amount of expensive food on the table, is thought provoking when you think of the cost. I must admit this may be a good picture to show his Pronkstilleven work, but I really want to pick up the balanced dish and place it where it is more secure, it is set in such a precarious manner, or could this be to show the precarious balance of good fortune. The light is cleverly managed not only shown coming through what looks like a window, which can be seen on the bottles, but there is light coming from behind the viewer.
Looking forward through the centuries still life painters continue to paint still life but the need for the almost photorealistic restricted painting and storytelling has not been the route for all, but still life through time has often been a pictorial message. Many centuries after the Dessert Still Life was painted by De Heem , Matisse was inspired enough by the painting to produce an abstract version of his own, where he highlighted the geometric shapes within De Heems original painting. Out of the corner of my eye I am always expecting to see a set of old type scales for some reason.
The Matisse painting above reminds me of the cubism practiced by Georges Braque and his geometric approach to still life. I find his paintings confuse my mind rather like the little toys I had as a child where you had to move around the squares until you moved them in order to create the picture.
His painting Picture Candlestick and Black Fish 1943, shown below is one such picture I find this so confusing and melancholic, and there is that Lemon making its appearance again as in many a still life.
I think the 20th Century has gone the way of other genre of art, in that anything goes and is accepted. All thoughts of Still Life being a lower form of art seem to be fading and we have moved into the 20th Century with no holes bared. The master of minimalist painting must be Giorgi Morandi a favourite of mine, his pots painted in hue and tone producing a pleasant restful feel. I love this one below where one blue and white striped pot stands out among the other objects inline.
We also have still life appearing in Pop Art, as in the picture below by Roy Lichtenstein,
and sculptures like, that of Hans Op de Beecks Peacock 2015. It is a series of 2 Vanitas mixed media sculptures made from pigmented plaster and wood. It follows the hallmark still life of the 17th Century Dutch painters with the vanity of the Peacock, the skull showing end of life, as do unlit candles, in the picture of the sculpture below there are some modern aspects within the artwork like the ashtray and drinks can.
One of my favourite genres of artwork is still life and I have found this research fascinating, I have only just touched the surface, but even within my limited research it does show how important to artists this genre is. It can show a snapshot of time, hold a hidden meaning and the feelings of the artists who make still life. I for one don’t feel it is a lesser form of art, for me it is every bit equal to any other genre, it is a snapshot of history, mans’ thoughts and beliefs within that moment.
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Available at: http://blogs.artinfo.com/modernartnotes/2013/03/georges-braque-and-the-black-fish/
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Available at: https://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/research/online-editions/17th-century-dutch-paintings.html/
Maslova-Levin, E., 2017. Looking into the core of a painting: how Henry Matisse opened up Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s “Table of Desserts. [Online]
Available at: http://lenalevin.com/artofseeing/2016/06/25/looking-into-the-core-of-a-painting-how-henry-matisse-opened-up-jan-davidsz-de-heems-table-of-desserts/
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Unknown, 2017. Dessert Still Life. [Online]
Available at: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/dessert-still-life-jan-davidsz-de-heem.html
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Available at: https://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.46097.html
Unknown, 2017. Pieter Claesz. [Online]
Available at: http://www.wga.hu/html_m/c/claesz/vanitas1.html
Unknown, 2017. THE VERMEER NEWSLETTER. [Online]
Available at: http://www.essentialvermeer.com/dutch-painters/dutch_art/ecnmcs_dtchart.html#.WYDGrunavIU
Unknown, unknown. Giorgio Morandi. [Online]
Available at: http://www.widewalls.ch/still-life-artists/giorgio-morandi/
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unknown, unknown. Marianne Boesky Gallery. [Online]
Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/hans-op-de-beeck/peacock-a-iwzeGzUtsiO_R-CGWrvCDw2
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