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Autumnal Still Lifes for a Tasty Goodbye to Autumn

Abraham Brueghel, An Extensive Still Life of Fruit in a Landscape, 1670, private collection

Food

Autumnal Still Lifes for a Tasty Goodbye to Autumn

I know, I know, astronomical winter begins on the 21st of December but since Thanksgiving and Black Friday are over and all shops have changed their display windows to a reindeer mode, while some people have already put up a Christmas tree, I feel this week is the last chance to legitimately show you some autumnal stuff. As a goodbye to the season abundant in fruit and veg, here comes a selection of the tastiest autumnal still lifes:

Basket of chestnuts, cheese, mushroom and fruit

Paolo Barbieri, Basket of chestnuts, cheese, mushroom and fruit, c.1640, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, autumnal still lifes

Paolo Barbieri, Basket of chestnuts, cheese, mushroom and fruit, c.1640, The Art Institute of Chicago, IL

Paolo Antonio Barbieri is probably the less famous sibling (is it because he specialized in still lifes?) of his older brother Guercino, whose luminous depictions of biblical scenes were hugely successful. Paolo instead loved painting nature, excelling especially in painting fish.

Basket of fruit

Edouard Manet, Basket of Fruit, c.1864, Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, MA, autumnal still lifes

Edouard Manet, Basket of Fruit, c.1864, Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, MA

“A painter can say all he wants to with fruits or flowers, or even clouds. You know, I would like to be the Saint Francis of still life”, said Manet and although he is famous for Olympia or scenes portraying Parisian life, still lifes represent almost one fifth of his oeuvre and were most welcome from everyone: “The most vociferous enemies of Edouard Manet’s talent grant him that he is good at painting inanimate objects”, noted Emile Zola in 1867.

Pumpkin, Plums, Cherries, and Figs

Theodule Ribot, Still Life with Pumpkin, Plums, Cherries, Figs and Jug, 1860, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, autumnal still lifes

Theodule Ribot, Still Life with Pumpkin, Plums, Cherries, Figs and Jug, 1860, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao


Ribot loved painting still lifes and kitchen scenes but because he worked as a decorator of gilt frames in a mirror factory in Paris, he had to paint at night. He painted this still life following Gustave Courbet’s principles of Realism: to render nature as it was, far from any idealisation (normally, the bulky pumpkin would probably have to be polished and smooth, like in the cover painting by Brueghel).

Pomegranates

Gustave Courbet, Still Life with Apples and Pomegranates, 1871, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, autumnal still lifes

Gustave Courbet, Still Life with Apples and Pomegranates, 1871, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

When after the Paris Cummune Courbet had to serve 6 months in the Sainte-Pélagie prison, his sisters often brought him fruit and flowers, which he began to use as subjects for painting.

Pears and grapes

Paul Gauguin, Pears and grapes, 1875, private collection, autumnal still lifes

Paul Gauguin, Pears and grapes, 1875, private collection


On the contrary to Courbet, Gauguin railed against the prevailing Realist aesthetic (this one is however pretty realistic because it’s quite an early work). Once, when discussing with younger followers the transposition of an object to canvas,  Gauguin lost his temper and pointing out a plate of apples, he shouted: “For goodness’ sake, that’s not an apple, it’s a circle!”. He produced circa one hundred paintings of circles, which stand for one-sixth of his total oeuvre.

Apples

Henri Matisse, Apples, 1916, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, autumnal still lifes

Henri Matisse, Apples, 1916, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Around 1913, the Fauve spontaneity of Matisse‘s previous compositions gave way to a more formal Cubism-inspired discipline, so visible in his still lifes.

Grapes

Giorgio de Chirico, Black grapes, 1947, National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art-GNAM, Rome, Italy, autumnal still lifes

Giorgio de Chirico, Black grapes, 1947, National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art-GNAM, Rome, Italy


De Chirico wrote once in regards to painting still lifes: “Only a talented painter when painting a still life, really captures the silent and still life of things created by nature or by men. A jug, so poorly-looking and insignificant that it goes unnoticed when put on a farmer’s table, in a good painting can become a fascinating object full of nobility.”

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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