Part Two: Research Point: Still Life Genre

Still life, or nature morte in French, refers to where artists have created a piece of work where the subject matter is inanimate, whether it be man-made objects or organic objects and things which used to be alive.  Common items used for still life pieces include flowers, fruit and other household objects such as chairs, however, other items such as skulls and dead animals are also used to add a sinister touch to the work.

Still life has been used throughout history and notably by the Ancient Egyptians in the 15th Century BCE, who would paint food and meat at burial sites as an offering to the gods. The Greeks and Romans created still life pieces in mosaics and frescoes (a painting done in watercolours onto wet plaster so the colours become embedded during the drying process).

During the Renaissance (14th to 17th Century), flowers became a well-used item for still life pieces as artists were becoming more and more interested in recreating realistic imagery in their work as well as the use of colours. In the Middle Ages (around 1500AD to 1600AD), still life was used by artists for religious purposes as both symbols and as decoration around the border of manuscripts. The 17th Century also saw rise of the Dutch Golden Age and the interest in flowers develop with the creation of ‘vanitas’ works, which would focus on reminding the viewer of their own mortality and the fleetingness of time.

Fig. 3. Van Ultrecht, A Vanitas Still Life with a Bouquet and a Skull (1642)

The 18th Century saw a rise in notable French artists whose focus in regard to still life was similar to that of vanitas works, but which would focus on the wealth and bounty of the aristocracy and would leave out the moral messages found within the vanitas pieces. Still life was seen as a lesser importance than religious and mythical depictions.

Fig. 4. Meléndez, L Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melon, Bread, Jug and Bottle (circa 1771)

The 19th century brought about the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists who were more interested in experimenting with the vibrancy and exaggeration of colours and methods of applying paint as the invention of cameras had reduced the call for realistic painted pieces.

Fig. 5. Van Gogh, V Sunflowers or Vase with 15 Sunflowers (1888)

Fauvism (the emphasis of bold colours over realistic values) and Cubism (the deconstruction of objects into geometric and abstract shapes) was developed in the 20th Century.

Fig. 6. Picasso, P Compotier avec Fruits, Violon et Verre (Bowl with Fruit, Violin and Wineglass) (1913)

The 21st Century has seen the rise of many interpretations of still life pieces, with artists using such things as computer rendering and sculpture to show their personalities within their work.

Fig. 7. Tran, G A Completely Synthetic, Computer-Generated Still Life (2006)

Experimentation with Works Throughout History

I decided to compare a few of the pieces I found above from different times in history to their predecessors and successors, as well as two of the artists my tutor suggested in my feedback for Part One.  My findings are as shown below:

Pre-Twentieth Century

Fig. 3. Van Ulrecht, Vanitas Still Life with a Bouquet and a Skull (1642) Fig. 5. Van Gogh, V Sunflowers (1888) Fig. 8. Cezanne, P Curtain, Jug and Fruit Bowl (1893)
Flemish artist (from Antwerp).  Work created in Belgium.  Piece created when a new type of still life was emerging. Dutch artist during the Post-Impressionism stage. French artist.  Piece created in France during the Post-Impressionism era.  Cezanne’s work was later seen as the bridge between Impressionism and Cubism.
Piece consists of a vase of flowers, a human skull, gold and silver coins, several vases, a book and a pocket-watch. Piece consists of numerous sunflowers during various stages of their lives in a vase. Piece consists of a jug, curtain, a piece of material, fruit and a bowl.
The term ‘vanitas’ translates to ‘empty’.  These pieces were used by Christians to show how earthly goods are pointless and meaningless as we all will face our mortality regardless of our wealth or stature. There does not appear to be any religious significance to this piece that I can find, however, it is well known that van Gogh was raised in a very religious household. This piece does not appear to have any religious connotations; however, it does show fruit and a jug, which could be found within pieces depicting religious offerings to gods or even in pieces such as those depicting The Last Supper.
This piece causes me to smell the sweetness of the flowers, whilst also the stench of death.  I hear the clock ticking and the coins jangling, reminding us of our greed, indulgence and gluttony, as well as our eventual fates, whether as a direct or indirect result of our greed. Whilst initially I sense the freshness and happiness of the bright and colourful flowers, I am then filled with a sort of confusion I imagine the sweet taste of the apples, feel the weight and coldness of the jug and bowl, as well as the softness of the cloth.
Created with oil paints on canvas.  To replicate this piece in drawing, I would use markers for their bold but controlled colours and lines or pencil crayons for their delicacy. Created with oil paints on canvas.  To replicate this piece in drawing, I would use oil pastels for their bold colours and expressive mark-making qualities. Created with oil paints on canvas.  To replicate this piece in drawing, I would use oil pastels for their bold but expressive colours or pencil crayons for their delicacy.
The successes in this piece are that it is realistic, has a strong message to portray and has strong contrast in tonal values.   There is actually nothing in this piece I would change or improve as I think it is almost too realistic. I really like the stages of life depicted in the sunflowers, however, I am not a huge fan of the colour yellow, so this piece does not appeal to me as much as others.  I think the perspective of the vase is slightly off, sliding slightly too far down to the right of the piece and the blue is rather contrasting in comparison to the rest of the colours used in the piece.  Perhaps this was intentional, but it does take away some of the realism of the piece. The depth of the fruit and jug in this piece are fantastic and something I will try to replicate and consider going forward.  I think the perspective of the drawer and the table are slightly off.  However, this could be intentional – the table does appear old, so maybe parts of it do not stand as they would have when first created due to the wear and tear of time.
The perspective of this piece appears to be at eye level, looking forward at the banquet in front of me. This piece seems to use the Rule of Thirds, most notably in the divide between the table and the wall being the bottom horizontal line and the vase and tallest flowers being placed centrally within the composition. The perspective of this piece appears to be at eye level.  If looking at the piece with the Rule of Thirds in mind, the front of the table is along the lower horizontal line, the body of the objects in the centre of the piece and the tops of the jugs along the upper horizontal line.  The blue fabric is located in the left-most column.

Twentieth Century Onwards

Fig. 9. Giocometti, A Still Life with an Apple (1937) Fig. 10. Morandi, G Natura Morta (1952) Fig.  7. Tran, G Glasses (2006)
Alberto Giocometti was a Swiss artist who was heavily influenced by Cubism and Realism.  He enjoyed debating philosophical questions relating to the human condition and phenomenon. Morandi, who was of Italian descent, was heavily influenced by the works of Paul Cezanne. Gilles Tran is a contemporary French artist who specialises in rendered art.
This piece consists of a single, almost insignificant apple sitting on a desk in what appears to be a study or an educational setting perhaps and was created with oil paint on a canvas.  This piece consists of simple blocks of colour and objects.  This piece was created with oil paint on a canvas. This piece consists of several different types of glass objects, such as drinking glasses and two dice.  This piece has been generated completely via a computer, using POV-Ray.
From this piece, I see a lot of darkness, moodiness and expressive marks.  I find the piece surprising as the focus appears to be on the apple, but it is also rather insubstantial within the piece.  I think the apple may represent the humbleness and delicate beauty of nature which is not always bold and intense enough to be deemed ‘beautiful’ instantly, whereas the desk (which could potentially have been made using the wood from the same tree which grew the apple) is bold, majestic and grand, indicating the greed and manmade ‘beauty’ which can usually be appreciated much sooner than that of simple, humble fruit. I find this piece to be calm and peaceful, having been created with a muted palette.  I like the simplicity of the objects and their gentle colouring.  I have struggled to find anything within this piece which represents any symbolisation, but feel the muted colours could perhaps represent a calm within the painter himself.  Perhaps he has tried to view the world as a child would; purely basic shapes and colours, leaving the intricacies and finer details of the objects / life for others to be concerned with. This piece firstly fills me with thirst due to all of the drinks!  Secondly, I am filled with amazement that this is actually a computer-generated image.  It is so realistic and well created, however, I do not think there is much expression in the piece except, perhaps, for the brightly coloured dice which stand out in the piece. Again, I cannot find any hidden symbology within this piece, but can only conclude the artist was very interested in recreating real life, almost as though considering himself a supreme being in his own right.
The perspective of this piece appears somewhat different to that of the other pieces, which seem to rest at the same level as the object, whereas this piece seems to focus on the objects from a distance.  However, it is somewhat similar as it does contain fruit. 
The piece also appears to contain something natural and something which is manmade.
Again, this piece appears to be created from a little distance from the objects, but still at the same sort of level as the objects.  These objects are all manmade and the artist has opted for a very muted palette as opposed to previously seen bold and intense colours and detail. Again, this piece appears to contain only manmade objects and focuses on bold, intense colours, but does have a few muted colours as well.  The perspective of the piece is once again rather close up and at the same level as the objects.
On first viewing this piece, my eye was drawn to the middle to the apple, then the desk as a whole and then to the drawer to the right as these all appear to have the most visual information and lighting. In this piece, my eye was naturally drawn to the middle of the piece and then up the neck of the bottle as this seemed to be where the information is mainly held and none of the colours really battle for the viewer’s attention. For this piece, my eye was instantly drawn to the bold, bright colouring of the dice, then to the green of the glass stem and then just around the rest of the piece generally.  Whilst there is what appears to be a glass of red wine in the piece, the red is not an intense shade and does not really battle for your attention in comparison to the blue and the green.
For this piece, I think the apple appears very fresh and ripe, whereas the wood of the desk appears to be old and almost an antique, which does counter the thought that maybe it could be from the same tree as the apple. The body of the bottle within this piece seems to remind me of crinkled paper and not so much of a bottle, even though it is clear as to what it is meant to be. The objects in this piece were almost too realistic.  I imagine a party taking place and, similar to a vanitas painting, the dice may represent the gamble with our lives we take when drinking in abundance and enjoying the intoxication of life’s frivolities.
The successes to this piece as the age of the wood and the depth created with the paint.  The placement of the apple, whilst almost insignificant, is done very well and intensifies the depth to the desk.  However, I feel the cupboard door has been overworked and is rather close to spoiling the piece. I think the successes of this piece are the muted colours and the depth created even with the lack of other details.  I do think the outline to the objects does let the piece down slightly as they are somewhat less realistic as a result and there is an apparent lack of shadow to the objects, which is somewhat strange I feel. I think the realism of this piece is fantastic, as are the shadows and reflected colours and light, however, due to it being so realistic, I do not think there is much personality to the piece or a fingerprint of the artists so to speak.
If I were to recreate this piece, I think I would use oil pastels due to the expressive nature of the marks made, as well as the boldness of the colours used. For this piece, I would use soft pastels or pencil crayons to recreate it due to their soft and calm nature, not to mention the ability to create a muted palette best of all the mediums I have experimented with so far, but also for their ability to create the finer lines for the outlines of the objects. Again, I would be tempted to use pencil crayons for this piece due to their ability for fine detail, but would also be tempted to use markers as they are also able to produce finer lines, but also would add the boldness of colour that the pencil crayons would lack.

Other Works Compared

List of Illustrations

Fig. 1. Maler der Grabkammer des Menna, Ackerschreiber des Königs, Szene Opfergaben (circa 1422-1411 BCE) [Mural] At: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maler_der_Grabkammer_des_Menna_009.jpg (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Fig. 2. Glass bowl of fruit and vases (around 70AD) [Roman wall painting in Pompeii] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_life#/media/File:Pompejanischer_Maler_um_70_001.jpg (Accessed on 12 March 2019)

Fig. 3. Van Ultrecht, A (1642) Vanitas Still Life with a Bouquet and a Skull [Oil on canvas] At: https://www.timetrips.co.uk/still_life_history.htm and http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/flowerstilllifes/17thand18thcenturies/vanitasstilllifewithflowersand (Accessed on 12 March 2019)

Fig. 4. Meléndez, L (circa 1771) Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle [Oil on canvas] At: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Luis_Mel%C3%A9ndez_-_Still_Life_with_Apples%2C_Grapes%2C_Melons%2C_Bread%2C_Jug_and_Bottle_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luis_Mel%C3%A9ndez_-_Still_Life_with_Apples,_Grapes,_Melons,_Bread,_Jug_and_Bottle_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg  (Accessed on 14 March 2019)

Fig. 5. Van Gogh, V (1888) Sunflowers or Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers [Oil on canvas] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_life and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflowers_(Van_Gogh_series) (Accessed on 12 March 2019)

Fig. 6. Picasso, P (1912) Compotier avec Fruits violon et verre [charcoal, chalk, watercolour, oil paint and course charcoal on papers and cardboard] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_life#/media/File:Compotier_avec_fruits,_violon_et_verre.jpg and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Compotier_avec_fruits,_violon_et_verre.jpg (Accessed on 12 March 2019)

Fig. 7. Tran, G (2006) A completely synthetic, computer generated still life [computer-generated] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_life (Accessed on 12 March 2019)

Fig. 8. Cezanne, P (1893) Curtain, Jug and Fruit Bowl [Oil on Canvas] At: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rideau,_Cruchon_et_Compotier (Accessed on 12 March 2019)

Fig. 9. Giocometti, A (1937) Still Life with an Apple [Oil on canvas] At:
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/492699 (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Fig. 10.Morandi, G (1952) Natura Morta [Oil on canvas] At: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/492699 (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Bibliography

ArtNet (2018) ‘Phillips London’ [online] At:
http://www.artnet.com/artists/giorgio-morandi/natura-morta-X9x6QkJasHNGMKkespganw2 (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

My Modern Met (2018) ‘How Artists Have Kept Still Life Painting Alive Over Thousands of Years’ [online] At: https://mymodernmet.com/what-is-still-life-painting-definition/ (Accessed on 11 March 2019)

Omeka (Unknown) ‘WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections& Exhibitions: Vanitas Still Life with Flowers and Skull’ [online] At:
http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/flowerstilllifes/17thand18thcenturies/vanitasstilllifewithflowersand (Accessed 13 March 2019)

Tate (unknown) ‘Giorgio Morandi’ [online] At:
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/giorgio-morandi-1660 (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Tate (unknown) ‘Still Life’ [online] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/still-life (Accessed on 11 March 2019)

The Met (2019) ‘Still Life with an Apple, 1937’ [online] At:
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/492699 (Accessed on 14 March 2019)

Time Trips (unknown) ‘Still Life: A History’ [online] At: https://www.timetrips.co.uk/still_life_history.htm (Accessed on 11 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Alberto Giacometti’ [online] At:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberto_Giacometti (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2018) ‘Adriaen van Utrecht’ [online] At:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adriaen_van_Utrecht (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Gilles Tran’ [online] At:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_Tran (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Paul Cezanne’ [online] At:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_C%C3%A9zanne (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier’ [online] At:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rideau,_Cruchon_et_Compotier (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Still Life’ [online] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_life (Accessed on 11 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Sunflowers (Van Gogh Series)’ [online] At:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflowers_(Van_Gogh_series) (Accessed on 12 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Vanitas’ [online] At: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanitas (Accessed on 13 March 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Vincent van Gogh’ [online] At:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh (Accessed on 12 March 2019)

Advertisements

One thought on “Part Two: Research Point: Still Life Genre

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.