To start my research I came across and interesting article on ‘The Met Museum’s’ website “Still- Life Painting in Northern Europe between 1600- 1800” and an overview on Wikipedia. Although it’s academically frowned upon to use Wikipedia it gave an insightful History of Still Life pointing me in the right direction.
Still Life as a genre covers such as vast subject matter of different objects used throughout history. The earliest traces are as far back as the Ancient Egyptians and Roman’s. The image below is a Roman wall painting in Pompeii thought to be painted around 70AD.
Fig 1 Glass bowl of fruit and vases. Roman wall painting in Pompeii (around 70 AD),
The development of oil painting by Jan Van Eyck (among other Artists) in Northern Europe during the Renaissance period created the opportunity to depict everyday objects in this Hyper-Realistic Style.
David Hockney in the programme “The Secret knowledge” (filmed by the BBC in 2002) argues that the earliest forms of the optical instruments as aids such as the camera obscura were possibly used to also create the Hyper-Realistic style by Jan Van Eyck ( Vermeer and other Artists) as early as the year 1402.
Various descriptions of still life genre all indicate that “Still-life painting as an independent genre or specialty first flourished in the Netherlands during the early 1600s” (Met Museum).
Especially popular in this period was Vanitas paintings “a still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the worthlessness of worldly goods and pleasures” (Tate). Typical objects included a skull, scientific or musical instruments, flowers, books and fruit (sometimes shown to be starting spoil or rot away).
“Vanitas are closely related to memento mori still life which are artworks that remind the viewer of the shortness and fragility of life (memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’) and include symbols such as skulls and extinguished candles. However vanitas still-life also include other symbols such as musical instruments, wine and books to remind us explicitly of the vanity (in the sense of worthlessness) of worldly pleasures and goods”. (Tate)
Fig 2 Still life with a Volume of Emblemes 1696. Edward Collier, Oil on Canvas.
Fig 3 Still life with a skull and a writing quill 1628 Pieter Claesz Oil on Wood.
Paul Cezanne was a French artist born 1839 who is famously known as a 19th Century impressionist painter. I have always remembered this quote “I will astonish Paris with an apple’, said the young Paul Cezanne of his still-life paintings”(Prodger, M). Paul Cezanne used still life as the perfect tool to experiment with colour, form and line.
Despite painted in his distinct impressionist style the composition and object placement is reminiscent of the 17th Century Dutch still life and again the choice of objects references Vanitas painting. I am attracted to these paintings due to their composition and spatial awareness.
Fig4 Apples and Oranges 1899 Paul Cezanne Oil on Canvas
Fig 5 Pyramid of skulls 1901 Paul Cezanne Oil on Canvas
It is thought that Paul Cezanne linked the art of the 19th Century impressionism and 20th Century art movement Cubism. “Pablo Picasso regarded Cezanne as a “Mother hovering over” and that “Cezanne’s influence gradually flooded everything”(Picasso.org) .
During the twentieth century “Cubism was a revolutionary new approach to representing reality invented in around 1907/08 by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque who aimed to bring different views of subjects (usually objects or figures) together in the same picture, resulting in paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted” (Tate)
Still life was used with great importance within Pablo Picasso and George Braque paintings and within Synthetic Cubist collages the still life’s often included musical instruments.
Fig 6 Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle 1914 Pablo Picasso
I, like David Hockney have an obsession with Picasso’s work, and always have since I was a teenager. I am drawn to ambiguity of his work. I could stare at each painting or collage for long lengths of time and see something new each time I visit it.
The objects become almost unrecognizable in this synthesized cubist collage “This combination of painting and mixed media is an example of the way Picasso “synthesized” color and texture – synthesizing new wholes after mentally dissecting the objects at hand”
“During his Analytic Cubist phase Picasso had suppressed color, so as to concentrate more on the forms and volumes of the objects, and this rationale also no doubt guided his preference for still life throughout this phase. The life of the cafe certainly summed up modern Parisian life for the artists – it was where he spent a good deal of time talking with other artists – but the simple array of objects also ensured that questions of symbolism and allusion might be kept under control”.(Picasso.org).
Another artist during the same period in time in Italy was Gorgio Morandi (born 1890) who was an Italian painter and print maker who specialised in still life. He explored a variety of approaches of still life paintings depicting form and tonal subtlety using everyday bottles, ornaments and kitchen implements. I like in the painting below the debate of use of background colours reversal- is it a blue table cloth? Traditionally and common (Cezanne and Morandi) the brown is used to represent the table with a blue background.
Fig 7 Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, c. 1955, Oil on canvas, 35,6 x 45,7 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Modern Contemporary Artists are working in Various ways still using the same imagery and object representation.The subject matter within all the artists work I have research doesn’t differ, just how they have approached the subject and how they have tried to represent it, through materials. The compositions are all similar in that structural rules and perspective are all taken into consideration.
I came across Sam Taylor-woods decaying still life whilst studying Creative Arts Today. The 35 mm film (DVD) films the decay of a bowl of fruit set up in a traditional style of Dutch Flemish painting (approx 3 minutes long). The Biro being representative of modern life.
Fig 8 Sam Taylor-Wood, Still Life, 2001, 35mm film/DVD, duration: 3’18’. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo: White Cube, London.
Fig 9 Time After Times 2007 Ori Gersht Photograph and Video
Based on a 19th Century still life by Henri Fantin- Latour, Ori Gersht has captured a moment of the Vase of Flowers exploding. I love this take on historic art. The New referencing the old. Do you see the chaos or the calmness of the historic still life.
This article on the Guardian online is an excellent reference for Contemporary Artists working today.
Danchev, A (2012) The quiet revolutionary of art: Cezanne: A Life, by Alex Danchev. In: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-2235178/The-quiet-revolutionary-art-Cezanne-A-Life-Alex-Danchev.html#ixzz4YqzcE1Bw
Hockney D, Hockney http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0074m8f (accessed 17/12/16)
Met Museum Website At: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nstl/hd_nstl.htm(accessed 17/12/16)
Picasso.org At: http://www.pablopicasso.org/cezanne.jsp (accessed 17/12/16)
Tate Website At: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/v/vanitas (accessed 17/12/16)
Tate Website At: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/c/cubism (accessed 17/12/16)
Fig 1 Glass bowl of fruit and vases. Roman wall painting in Pompeii (around 70 AD) (Photograph) In: http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/476017/glass-bowl-of-fruit-and-vases-roman-wall-painting-in-pompeii-around-70-ad (s.d)
Fig 2 Still life with a Volume of Emblemes 1696. Edward Collier, Oil on Canvas On: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/collier-still-life-with-a-volume-of-withers-emblemes-n05916 (s.d)
Fig 3 Still life with a skull and a writing quill 1628 Pieter Claesz Oil on Wood On:http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nstl/hd_nstl.htm (s.d)
Fig 4 Apples and Oranges 1899 Paul Cezanne Oil on Canvas On: https://www.wikiart.org/en/paul-cezanne/pyramid-of-skulls(s.d)
Fig 5 Pyramid of skulls 1901 Paul Cezanne Oil on Canvas On:http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire/commentaire_id/apples-and-oranges-7153.html(s.d)
Fig 6 Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle 1914 Pablo Picasso On:http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/picasso-bowl-of-fruit-violin-and-bottle-l01895(s.d)
Fig 7 Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, c. 1955, Oil on canvas, 35,6 x 45,7 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington On:http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.103747.html(s.d)
Fig 8 Sam Taylor-Wood, Still Life, 2001, 35mm film/DVD, duration: 3’18’. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo: White Cube, London. In:http://artpulsemagazine.com/breaking-the-medium-of-painting-down (2011)
Fig 9 Time After Times 2007 Ori Gersht Photograph and Video In: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/gallery/2013/oct/19/10-best-contemporary-still-lifes(2013)