Category Archives: Still life after 1900

“There’s more to still life……

…… than I thought” a previous students statement.  Do you agree with it?

To some extent Yes I do agree with this statement.  Until I did some research on this genre I just thought they were nice paintings of flowers or fruit etc but now I know that some had a hidden meaning it adds a new dimension to them.  This applies mainly to the 17th century though as by the 18th/19th century and the advent of the Academies in Europe ‘Still Lives’ had been relegated to the lowest level in the hierarchy of genres after History, Portrait and Landscape painting.

I was also surprised to learn that they were considered to be the easiest to paint because of the inanimate subjects used and needed no imagination on the part of the artist who unfortunately was also paid less.

Félibien believed that:-

‘…., the artist who does perfect landscapes is superior to another who paints only fruit, flowers or shells.  The artist who paints living animals deserves more respect than those who represent only still, lifeless subjects.  And as the human figure is God’s most perfect work on earth, it is certainly the case that the artist who imitates God by painting human figures is more outstanding by far than all the others.’


(Félibien, Art and Its Histories, pp 35)


Research Point: Pop Art

While researching Pop Art I was surprised to learn that it hadn’t started in America as I thought but in the mid 1950’s in Great Britain. It challenged the traditions of Fine Art by including images from popular culture.

According to this glossary from Tate

“A Still Life is anything that does not move or is dead in other words a Still Life painting usually features an arrangement of inanimate objects and traditionally the objects in the still life would have had a symbolic meaning.”

Still lives have a long tradition going back to Ancient Greece/Rome right up to the 20th century and Pop Art still lives are just a continuation,  although in a simplified form compared with the height of this genre, in the 17th and 18th century.

This is a late piece of what could be classed as pop art from the late 70’s in the Walker Art gallery collection in Liverpool.  Patrick Caulfield has transformed ordinary things into extraordinary things “what we call inspiration results from a careful sifting of everyday experience.”  Where he differs from American pop art is his use of interiors and everyday objects instead of advertising products and popular culture.


‘Still life: Autumn fashion’, Patrick Caulfield, 1978

Leeks in a trug and oysters on a plate (the right ones are very realistic compared to the more graphic ones to the left)  and typical 1970’2 wallpaper 🙂

You can see more of his works on the BBC Your Painting website


Visit an Artists studio part 2

As a Textile student/artist I was interested in the craft rooms/studios I found on YouTube.  Most of them are from the USA and I am so envious of the large spaces they have 🙂  I could spend all day watching them.

If I ever won the Lottery and was buying a house I would make sure there was room for my ideal studio and WOW this one would be ideal.

This lady says this must be one of the untidiest studios –  I can’t move in mine.  I’m so envious of all the storage space she has.

How does she keep it so tidy and organized?

Visit an artist’s studio

As part of this module I’m supposed to make a visit to an artist’s studio.  At this moment in time there aren’t any open days here in Liverpool so for now I’ve found some interesting videos on YouTube and if/when I get the chance to visit a studio I’ll write it up.

This first one shows the Fine Art studios at Coventry School of Art and Design, they don’t have a lot of space to work in so they have to keep it tidy 🙂

I would love to spend a day or three going around Zandra Rhodes workrooms

I found these on TateShots  (what a great resource,I could spend hours watching) some of the artists I’m familiar with but some I will have to do some research on but it’s interesting to see how they all work in their chosen medium.

Grayson Perry – Potter, I’m surprised at how small the space he works in it seems like organized chaos but he probably knows where everything is 🙂

Antony Gormely – Sculptor, obviously he needs a large open studio to work in given the size of some of his sculptures.

Peter Randall-Page – Sculptor

Fiona Rae – Painter

Callum Innes

I enjoyed the short series on BBC4 recently ‘What do Artists do all day?‘ which revealed a day in the life of Norman Ackroyd, Polly Morgan and Jack Vettriano.  I hope that they make more because it was so interesting to see the work spaces of famous artists.  The one thing I was surprised by was that they all had their studios in their homes, not a separate place that they had to go to which I thought they would have.  They must keep to a strict schedule otherwise it would be so easy to put off doing any work.  I have a room in my house that I use for my textile/art work so I know how easy it is to do that.

Research Point: Van Gogh letters

As suggested in the course notes I went on the internet to find excerpt from Vincent van Goghs letters.  I found this website that has facsimiles and translations of letters from 1872 to shortly before his death in 1890.

This website  has typed copies of the letters

Letter writing in this age of e-mail and texting is a dyeing art but back in the late 19th century it was the only way you could communicate with your nearest and dearest when you were away from them.

His letters give an insight in to how he spent his days and show that even when he wasn’t painting he looked at the world with a painters eye

“There was one white stripe on the horizon with dark grey clouds above it, the rain pouring down from them in slanting lines in the distance, standing out against this was the long row of houses with the Oosterkerk.”

and I’m glad to see that even he had doubts about his own work

“I’ve been drawing again recently, but it was nothing special.”

His early letters  show his deep religious faith and in the London letters he didn’t have a high opinion of English art “English art didn’t appeal to me much at first, one has to get used to it.”

His last letter to his brother Theo is particularly poignant, it was found on his body – a line in the letter Theo van Gogh. Auvers-sur-Oise, Wednesday, 23 July 1890 

“I’d perhaps like to write to you about many things, but first the desire has passed to such a degree, then I sense the pointlessness of it.”

perhaps it gives a sense of his mental health in the final few days of his life.

I’ve read that he had seizures which his Dr diagnosed as epilepsy and there have been many theories put forward over the years including that he was Bipolar (manic depression), had Menieres disease which causes hearing loss and vertigo or was even suffering from lead poisoning   We will never know what caused his mental illness just that he was a great artist who never got the recognition in his own lifetime.