A simple arrangement of objects. In French, “natur mort”. In a two dimensional picture plane we refer to it as a “still life”. This modest idea has spanned centuries, from adorning the inside of Egyptian tombs to provide the dead with nourishment, to serving as the subject that revolutionized painting with the work of Paul Cezanne in the late 19th century. And onward when the poetic tonal subtlety of Georgio Morandi and the bold view of Georgia O’Keefe spoke to the next generations.
According to the Tate Modern: “There has been surprisingly little change in the type of objects used. But the way they have been depicted has changed, reflecting developments in style and technique.” And marking significant periods in art history.
Many artists naturally relied on collected objects, beloved because of form, function, color or patina that found their way to be strewn about the studio. They were simple, readily-available subjects on which to experiment with technique, brushwork or more profound philosophies.
Cezanne’s still lifes are on what his reputation as the “father of modern art” is built. Reiner Maria Rilke was so moved by seeing them in the 1907 Autumn Salon exhibition at the Grand Palais, a year after the artist’s death, Rilke visited it every day. And he wrote subsequent letters to his wife, a sculptor, about what he experienced. In them he saw the artist’s very struggle to create. A resulting book, Letters on Cezanne, still captivates creators and lovers of art and literature.
The tradition of still life painting a long and varied. Using it as our focus this week and next, we will have the opportunity to discharge thoughts and energy and to play with ideas and paint techniques.