Still Life study
“A genre that has the potential to make you grateful to be alive…”
“A Closer Look – Still Life” – a National Gallery publication by Erica Langmuir
This quote from Erica Langmuir encapsulates for me what still life paintings are about. My study of this genre has been extremely brief and can only be seen as an introduction to the subject but I have so enjoyed the small glimpse. Because I have no background in the subject I needed to learn something about its origins and development over the centuries and to try to understand what it is!
The National Gallery in London was a great starting point and I was able to spend a morning with the Dutch 17th century still lifes. These were simply breathtaking in their detail and exceptional quality in painting technique. It was interesting to see, over the years, objects of everyday life gain an identity of their own as still life painting developed as a genre in its own right. I found it interesting to read that the artists themselves enjoyed depicting the beauty of objects but it was society in general and of course this meant those who were commissioning art who failed to appreciate that the painting of everyday objects could be a “work of art”.
The work of Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin surely took the genre to a new level in his paintings of unimportant objects which in daily life would have been overlooked. The extraordinary painting technique is to be marveled at but it is the interpretation of the subject matter which leaves the lasting impression. “This magic defies understanding”…Diderot. He brings a dignity and beauty to everyday things which for me expresses the spiritual quality of grace in the world around us. It reminds me daily to look beyond what the eye perceives into a realism which manifests the essence of true creativity, beauty and soul.
This thinking continued as I studied further into the paintings of Courbet and Peploe. The research has been brief and there is no doubt that one could spend a lifetime exploring the meanings behind still life painting. But I feel this has been a significant area of exploration in my personal journey as an artist as I keep asking my self, “Why?”
For painting to have any personal meaning it needs to be taking me into the unknown, not just in terms of practical skills and knowledge, but into new dimensions of spiritual exploration.