Exercise: Still life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

This is an exercise I admit to having delayed starting due to the simple fact of that Still Life is still is my least favoured of the artistic genres although  with this period in history it concentrates on ordinary objects rather than symbolism.

The course material speaks of the still life works having moral overtones and also the conveying of order and morally correct behaviour in a harmonious world – the subjects of the still life were of the objects in a middle class household rather than that of the working class.

The first artist it is suggested looking at is that of Gustave Courbet – the movement of this artist was Realism and he used a variety of techniques to suggest texture and vibrancy.  The tools of Courbet’s trade was not just brushes but palette knives, rags, sponges and even his fingers – the brush strokes are broad and expressive and combined with the other tools he created a thickness to the paint that enabled the aforesaid textures to be shown as well as creating depth and form.

The course material then suggests looking at the way Cezanne relates one object to another through his use of rhyming shapes and colours – until I looked at one of his still life portrayals of apples I did not understand what this meant.  My research tells me that he aimed to give a sense of the third dimension that does not involve perspective and this I understand to mean that Cezanne creates an impression of three-dimensional form without necessarily including different perspective techniques – in his work Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, 1890, this can be seen clearly.  Going back to the course material and its mention of rhyming shapes and colours I can see how the apples and primrose flowers are all circular and this gives a rhythm throughout the art work and the colours used give a sense of harmony.  The only thing about Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses is the slightly disconcerting feeling that not only is the plant seemingly coming forward to the viewer but I also feel the table on which the apples is placed is also leaning at an angle as if the apples could tip off at any moment.

Comparing Cezanne to Courbet both artists use thick layers of paint but the latter is rougher in his application and his use of tools seem more varied to create texture whilst the former has a more delicate touch and a concentration on colour and third dimension to create the form.

Vincent van Gogh is well known for his use of colour and simplicity of shapes to depict his still life studies of flowers – these may not be botanically accurate but his techniques create vibrancy and expression and passion in response to his subject. Van Gogh was willing to experiment with colour, light and technique and did so in abundance in his still life studies If I had to choose a personal favourite of these it would not be one of sunflowers but the one titled Vase with Red Poppies due to the vibrancy of the red poppies against the blue background and the loose, free style of brush work that gives a delightful impression of a loosely arranged bunch of flowers.

Reading further it was interesting to look at Cezanne’s advice to Emile Bernard – this is suggested again in the course material.  The advice appears to be to give an impression of the sensory experience by the use of colour and drawing and not to be concerned about being too sincere with further reference to being a master of one’s model in the letter I have discovered – this is something perhaps I myself needs to bear in mind when I try to draw or paint the flowers in my own garden.  Cezanne was concerned about creating his own impression of what he saw in front of him and by making himself master of his subject rather than the subject the master he was able to give the impression of subject rather than a realist image – this I totally understand as I am being taught to draw what I see not what I think I ought to see i.e. concentrate less on realism and more on my personal impression so I can relate to this advice.

Van Gogh on the other hand his concentration was on the use of colour to convey his feelings – on the website m.theartstory.org there is the quote “real painters do not paint things as they are … they paint them as they themselves feel them to be”.  Van Gogh was known to write to his brother Theo about his use of colours and how they affected his feelings and his brother also used lists sent to him to order the colours required for him.  The use of colours to convey feeling is often used by artists now and it is accepted that colour can have a very definite effect on your mood – Van Gogh excelled with colour in his works.

Looking at the artists the course material suggest it is interesting to note the varied techniques  and the differing use of colour, texture and sense of either perspective or third dimension to produce their differing works of art.  I am not sure which artist I personally prefer in terms of technique – each has its unique qualities that bring the subject to life.

What has been more interesting is reading about the artist’s writings in their descriptions of their work – I appreciate I have only read very briefly but it has given me an insight into understanding the way they work personally.  I am finding I am increasingly interested in the artists own perceptions of their works due to it being very different from that of a critic or spectator – the artist knows what he was or is trying to achieve when he picks up his paint brush or palette knife and knows the style or emotion he is trying to create.  To understand that Van Gogh was using colour to express his feelings or that Cezanne advised that you gave an impression of what you saw but Courbet’s style was that of Realism – that is vitally important to  me if I am to understand the different movements and styles and to be able to analyse an individual work whether for this course or whether it is when I go to a gallery and see a work in person in the future.



Architecture Adventures. (date unknown).  Van Gogh’s Use of Color [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/samclark95/portfolio-2/the-wonderful-world-of-color/van-goghs-use-of-color/

Artable. 2016. Paul Cezanne [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://www.artble.com/artists/paul_cezanne

ArtsHeaven.com  Blog. 2016.  Van Gogh Still Life Paintings of Flowers [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from: http://site.artsheaven.com/blog/van-gogh-still-life-paintings-of-flowers/

Chelsea Magazines Ltd. 2006-2015.  How to use colour like Van Gogh [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://www.artistsandillustrators.co.uk/how-to/oil-painting/984/how-to-use-colour-like-van-gogh

F+W. 2016. Oil Painting: Gustave Courbet: The First Realist [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://www.artistdaily.com/blogs/oil-painting/oil-painting-gustave-courbet-the-first-realist

LitLangs. 2003-2016.  Paul Cezanne [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://www.oil-painting-techniques.com/analysis-paul-cezanne.html

The Art Story. 2016.  Gustave Courbet French Painter [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://www.theartstory.org/artist-courbet-gustave.htm

The Art Story. 2016.  Vincent van Gogh [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://m.theartstory.org/artist-van-gogh-vincent.htm

The National Gallery. 2016.  Still Life with Apples and a Pomegranate [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/gustave-courbet-still-life-with-apples-and-a-pomegranate

Reissner, E. 2008.   Ways of Making: Practice and Innovation in Cézanne’s Paintings in the National Gallery. National Gallery Technical Bulletin. Volume 29Yuhas, A. 15 February 2016.  Science peers into Van Gogh’s Bedroom to shine light on colour of artist’s mind [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/15/science-van-gogh-bedroom-colors-paintings

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