Wednesday, March 9, 2016

European still life images, 17th-20th centuries

Lumière Brothers
ca. 1898
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

This is a group of posed objects. They are disposed, for the most part, on level indoor surfaces. What unites them is the absence of human beings, even while the recent presence of human beings is absolutely implied in every case. Nobody can look at any deliberate arrangement of anything for very long without wondering about the arranger. So these pictures of things are also pictures of human presence, but a presence expressed through its immediate absence.

Pieter Steenwijck
ca. 1635-40
oil on canvas

Anne Vallayer-Coster
Vase of flowers and conch shell
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Anne Valleyer-Coster (1744-1818) exhibited the flower piece above (or one very like it) at the Paris Salon of 1781. Diderot at the end of his life praised her work, and he was a critic whose praise was never casually bestowed. She painted for the Bourbons before the Revolution and for Napoleon afterwards. The little conch with its amazing red highlights surely is entitled to stand up right this minute and articulate its claim to be recognized as the absolute Platonic paradigm of all painted seashells.

Sebastian Stoskopff
Still life with nautilus, panther shell, and chip-wood box
ca. 1630
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pierre Auguste Renoir
Bouquet of chrysanthemums
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Giorgio Morandi
Still life with bottle
Clark Art Institute

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) drew Still life with bottle in 1949. His work was unfavorably, even harshly regarded by the Fascist officials who ran things in Italy during much of his adult life. In the very middle of World War II, critic Giovanni Scheiwiller felt himself called upon to defend the artist. "No, illustrious censors, a still life can move us because of its intrinsic qualities, for its emotional intensity and for inexplicable mysterious reasons.  ...  No, Morandi's paintings are not  as they are so often recklessly described  "the most authentic expression of artistic impotence" – rather his works document the triumph of the spirit over materialism. ... Morandi is among the few privileged artists with the capacity to produce paintings of pure poetry."   

Fernand Khnopff
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Andries Benedetti
Table with desserts
ca. 1650
oil on canvas

Gabriel de la Corte
Mask with tulips and roses
ca. 1690-94
oil on canvas

attributed to Michel Bruno Bellengé
Vase of flowers in a niche
late 18th century
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

The battered gilt frame above is a trompe l'oeil illusion surrounding the illusionary marble niche in this over-door painting recently attributed to Michel Bruno Bellengé. The orderly disarray of the flowers themselves and their apparent weightlessness, the peculiar flat blue-green of the vase, and the playful presentation of the "damaged" frame  all these accord with the taste of Versailles in its final phase under Marie Antoinette.

Pedro de Camprobín
Pink roses
ca. 1640-60
oil on canvas

Jan Brueghel the Elder
Tulips and roses
early 17th century
oil on canvas

Aubert Parent
Vase of flowers with wildlife and vines
Carved limewood relief
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Grinling Gibbons
ca. 1690
carved limewood
Victoria & Albert Museum

Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) carved the wooden cravat above in imitation of Venetian needlepoint lace. It served no practical purpose except to showcase his miraculous level of technical ability and his wit. In the mid-18th century the object belonged to Horace Walpole and was on display at Strawberry Hill. Curators at the Victoria & Albert Museum repeat a story that Horace Walpole actually wore the cravat in 1769 to receive "distinguished French, Spanish and Portuguese visitors."