Still Lifes

Still life paintings depict an arrangement of inanimate objects that may vary greatly in composition, finish and style. Given this wide range, there is a perfect still life painting for any room. Auctions at Doyle provide the perfect resources for a unique piece that is a perfect fit for your space.

Although still lifes have been a popular subject matter for centuries, the genre proliferated during the 16th and 17th centuries in the Netherlands. Dutch Golden-Age still life paintings often depict objects with symbolic messages, communicating a moral lesson. Thus, although Dutch still lifes celebrate pleasure without restraint, they also warn against the ephemeral nature of power and riches. These works were made during a time of rapid urbanization and growth in the number of people able to buy luxury goods. Depicting sumptuous arrays of beautiful objects strewn across a table executed to a high finish, these works warn of the temptations of opulence and wealth, conveying a sense of the transience and emptiness of wealth and possessions, and reminding viewers to practice moderation. Some works include watches, clocks, sculls, dead fish and game to symbolize the passage of time and the transience of life.

In Doyle’s upcoming Old Master Paintings auction on October 25, 2017, a beautiful 17th century Dutch still life by Floris van Schooten exemplifies works of this type. Here, a pile of grapes, apples, plums and pears rests on a table in a monochromatic setting typical of the artist. The varnish, a standard feature of Old Master paintings, gives the work the high-finish luster that we see in other Dutch Golden Age paintings. The various fruits, each executed with exacting realism, appear so life-like that we almost expect them to fall off the table.

In the 19th century, such moralizing works of realism were replaced by paintings that conveyed first, by the Impressionists, a fleeting sense of perception, and later, in the hands of the Expressionists, the artist’s emotional state. Characterized by visible brush strokes and expressive color, Impressionist and Expressionist paintings are rich essays in color and light.

Doyle's May 10, 2017 auction of Impressionist and Modern Art featured a still life painting by the Fauve artist Maurice de Vlaminck. This depiction of a bouquet of flowers in a vase uses emphatic color and forceful brush strokes to convey a feeling of intense emotion. The thick application of paint and dramatic contrast of white and black, along with bright reds and blues, intensifies the sensation of strong feeling in the work.

Later, Cubist painters, fascinated by form and perspective, re-created the traditional still life in abstract form. First working to break down images into parts or planes to present all sides, angles, and views, Cubist artists tried to see how fully they could deconstruct an image before it became completely abstract. Later, Synthetic Cubist artists took another approach, building up works from various formal components instead of breaking them down. Their paintings begin with elements from the real world, such as newspaper fragments or pieces of cardboard, and synthesize these actual objects to build a new form, bringing into question what the object represents and what determines its meaning.

Doyle will present such a Cubist still life in the November 15, 2017 Impressionist & Modern Art auction. Nature Morte, a painting in oil on canvas from 1929 by the French Cubist painter Jean Metzinger, is a luminous example of the artist’s mature style. Metzinger was one of the first Cubist artists, and an important theorist of the movement. Like his fellow Cubists, he attempted to show a number of viewpoints of the objects he depicted, believing that since the world was constantly changing, they appeared differently to different viewers, and therefore should not be presented as seen from a single viewpoint. The bold colors of this work reflect not only the influence of the Fauve and Impressionist painters on Metzinger, but also that of artist Robert Delaunay. With his wife Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay started the Orphist art movement, which made a particular study of abstraction and bright colors. Influenced by them, Metzinger has broken down the objects in this still life into simple shapes. Although they appear to float in the air and do not appear to rest on anything, Metzinger still conveys an impression of space and three-dimensionality with shading.

Still lifes are wonderful additions to any collection. Find one for your own wall at one of Doyle’s upcoming sales.

-- Caroline Hogan, Intern, Summer 2017