Thursday, 19 February 2015

Still life research after 1800

Unless I say otherwise, the photos for todays' entry are taken from the art encyclopaedias listed below.

Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers 1888 oil on canvas
Probably the most famous flower picture in the world.
It has physical substance because he used so much paint.
Paul Cezanne Still life with a curtain 1895
Image from
Cezanne is the turning point in still-life in the articles I have read. This painting shows how he took the classical idea of a still life and used it in a masterly way to explore colour and volume.
Paul Cezanne Still life with skull 1985-90
the background seems to be there to give depth and contrast to the gorgeous fruit and skull.

Childe Hassam The Room of Flowers 1894 oil on canvas
This painting is full of clutter and light and I didn't notice the woman reading until well after I had taken in the weather and warm summer air. I suppose that her presents stops this being a still-life, but its interesting that you can get so many medium sized objects of different colours and textures into a painting without it becoming just a mess. I think it must be because of the clarity of the yellow-green window brought to the foreground flowers adn then the green carpet in a sweep of composition.

Jean Gris Glasses, Newspaper, and a bottle of wine
1913 collage, gouache, watercolour, coloured chalk, and charcoal on paper
Lots of different materials, but the whole thing is unified by the vertical slices and narrow colour range.
Apparently he didn't aim to be cubist, but has used typically cubist techniques to show different parts of the same object and discard shading.
Pablo Picasso Still life with chair caning 1911-12
The painter was playing with the still life genre, and asking what is real.
According to Amy Dempsey, the caning was painted onto oilcloth, which was then stuck to the canvas.
The objects of the still life are painted in a fragmented way which prevents us from identifying them easily, but which Picasso thought was more 'real'. 

Georges Braque Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece 1911 oil on canvas
The cubist way of representing objects from all sides at once, rather than as they are usually seen, from one side only.
This experimentation was going on in Europe at the same time as other experimental variations on classical painting.

Emile Nolde Red Poppies c. 1920
Watercolour on paper
As a German Expressionist he wanted to 'grasp what lies at the very heart'
In this flower still life he does this through colour and shape, and the use of water to give detail and atmosphere.
I think that soon I should look at this group of artists in a bit more depth
because whenever I see their work it appeals to me viscerally. (They're not usually as pretty as this)
Pierre Bonnard The Open Window c.1921 oil on canvas
The group of artists he worked with, The Nabis, aimed to express feeling through colour,
and to simplify the lines and shapes in their paintings.

Stuart Davis Egg Beater No.4 1928 oil on canvas
American artist who used abstract shapes and colours to depict everyday objects, inspired by jazz.
 It's amazing how unlike the object it can be and still be a 'still life' - in this case with a lot of movement in it!

From the early 20th Century, it becomes more and more tricky to work out where the boundaries of 'still-life' are, because represenations or collections (or sculptures) of medium sized objects began to be used more or less subtly to demonstrate things other than the appearance or feeling of the objects themselves.

Salvador Dali Lobster Telephone 1936
Exploring the effect of surreal juxtapositions of objects.
'a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge.'

John Bratby Table top 1955
'Kitchen sink school'
Painting in the shadow of the nuclear bomb. Painting each object as if it is the last time he would see them.
When I am really in the moment of drawing, it doesn't feel despairing, but it does feel as if the world of the object becomes extraordinary and intense and able to teach me profound things about the world.
Louise Nevelson Royal Tide IV 1959-60
Assemblage of wood scavenged from the street.

Maria Elena Vieria da Silva Checkmate oil on canvas 1949-50.
The focus on the chess board is so intense that the whole room has become imbued with the game.
Muted palette lines and gently twisted central perspective in abstract style.
Thinking about how I could use this idea to extend the way I feel about an object into the surroundings.
Also that it's not necessary to make it look the way it actually looks!

Georgio Morandi Still Life 1960
oil on canvas
The Art Book comments 'the sense of calm meditation that 
pervades his paintings invites comparison with Chardin and Cezanne.'
Plain shapes in subdued colours and blank background.

This links to Nicolas de Stael Bouteilles Rouges 1955 oil on canvas, which shows what can happen when the painter takes a step further towards complete abstraction. The focus becomes even more the colours and shapes and their relationships with each other. The background here has as much intensity as the objects themselves. 

Robert Raushenberg Reservoir 
1961 oil, pencil, fabric, wood and metal
Wanting to act 'in the gap between'
art and life. 
Which seems appropriate for still life.
Inspiration for pop art movement.

Claes Oldenberg Giant Hamburger 1962
Printed sailcloth stuffed with foam (132x213 cm)
Marcel Broodthaers Casserole and closed mussels
1964-5 mussel shells, polyester resin & iron pot
This is the Belgian version, satirising the bourgeoisie

Sculpture rather than still-life in the usual sense, with the meaning supplied by the image's advertising prominence in the USA.

From 1960s, most of the still-life works I can find, or find interesting, are three dimensional.

I'll have to think about why that might be, other than that it has been unfashionable to draw or paint still-life.

Jeff Koons Two balls 50/50 1985

Wolfgang Tillmans Snail Still Life 2004
The arrangement of the objects asks questions about still-life as an art form and about their degradability making me think about the ephemeral nature of art movements.

Tony Cragg Eroded Landscape 1992 glass
Is this a still-life? It's familiar medium sized objects made of glass and then arranged to represent - well it's called a landscape, but what it makes is up to us. I think it's
about shape and meaning, repetition and how your imagination works on things.
I'm thinking I might go for a repetitive grouping of objects to capture something of this.

Dempsey, A (2010 edition) Styles Schools & Movements. The Essential Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art Thames & Hudson, London

1994 The Art Book Phaidon, London

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