The last six lessons of my online course, Watercolour A to Z, began with the…
‘With an apple, I shall astonish Paris.’ Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
I received an email with a link to a Guardian article, the other day, entitled, ‘Nobody has ever been astonished by an apple’ – sorry Cézanne, but still lifes are dull as hell’.
After taking a few opening swipes at practitioners of the genre, the writer went on to contradict themself by admitting that Cézanne ‘was extremely influential and did, indeed, astonish,’ and then extolled his ability to capture ‘surface light’ and ‘colour transitions,’ before admitting that there are still lifes they actually ‘adore,’ (citing Oosterwijck, Van Gogh and Kopitseva) as well as conceding that it makes sense for children ‘to learn to draw and paint via still life.’
Hold on to that last comment.
In days gone by, I might have hurled my newspaper across the room, at this point, but as I was reading the article on my iPad, I took a calming, deep breath instead and reminded myself that, to the modern media industry, articles that provoke are probably more useful than those that merely inform. It’s not about what makes us ‘tick,’ in other words, but what makes us ‘click.’
True, some of the rooms in the National Gallery seem inordinately full of still lifes – and very brown they are, too – and after a while, the unwitting visitor may be forgiven for wondering what they’re supposed to do with all those dead pheasants and pewter candlesticks. But the thing is, while we can place some of the blame on the acquisitive middle classes of sixteenth century Europe, all that fruit and fur wasn’t necessarily intended for public consumption. Sometimes, a still life ends up in a gallery because of its historical, rather than aesthetic, value or the previous owner may have gifted it in lieu of tax. And then, there’s the insurance. Hanging a small Oosterwijck on your wall, for example, could set you back fifteen grand a year. But consider an artist like Cézanne, whose intention was to counter Impressionism (which he regarded as having grown academic and stale) and to hone his skills without having to shell out for a model or lug his painting clobber through the hot sun and stand in front of a mountain all day long. What could be cheaper and easier than scattering a few windfalls on the dresser? Unlike a model, apples will stay put for hours and then you can make tarte tatin. To be fair, the writer of the article does make a similar point, but buries it in a tirade about how her own emotional needs could never be met by a plate on a tablecloth. My advice would be, stare at that plate and tablecloth until they are.
That’s what I do, whenever I can – with pencil, charcoal or a brush in my hand and a palette full of colour – because If I’m serious about learning what I can do with my materials, it’s the very best way…
Continuous line Straight line
Still life? Sorry, still gonna do it!
And thank you, Lindsay, for the link.