The importance of the still life in painting has been one of the most recognised genres throughout the history of art. Painting has depicted still lifes with all kinds of arrangements, elements and lighting: table settings, hunting studies, fruit bowls with a meticulous, abstracted or colourful vision… From the Renaissance still life, rich in detail and definition, to the still life that emerged when painting took its bold turn towards abstraction, the genre has remained a constant source of inspiration for artists.
Types of still life in painting: as far as the mind can imagine
There are still lifes with many different types of elements: in terms of animals, we can see still lifes with sardines, with partridges, with pigs, and even with pigs’ heads. Personally I prefer still lifes with fruit and containers to still lifes with animals. One of the ones I liked the most I saw at the end of 2018 in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, it was an exotic still life in which a parrot appeared (in this case a live parrot) and there were also some grapes, watermelon…. It was very lively, colourful and original.
Of those painted by my grandmother, one of the ones that has always had the greatest impact on me is this still life with lobster. As if the lobster wasn’t impressive enough, it also comes with lemon, a jug of beer that looks like German beer and some oysters around it. There are also two very varied glasses, the one on the right which looks like an aperitif and the one on the left, I suppose for water or white wine.
The still life controversy
In one of my last exhibitions, which included a still life, some of the visitors openly asked: “What’s the point of this? What’s so interesting about peppers?
For me it is an interesting genre for the simple reason that, if the work is good, it reflects the uniqueness and brilliance of simple elements of our daily lives that go rather unnoticed, since in most cases we label them mentally as “obvious” and then move on to something else.
In this same exhibition I was talking about, there were other visitors who loved the still life I presented and who even said to me: “We were really looking forward to you painting a still life, really”.
My curiosity for this motif probably also comes from the influence of my grandmother, the painter Carmen Gandía, who in the summers of the early 1990s taught me and my cousin how to paint still lifes in oil like she did. In fact, it wasn’t difficult at first because she told us to paint just one apple.
However, to do it really well, you had to capture the brightness, the shade of green, the volume of the fruit, the rounded shape of its body, the background and its nuances…. One could underestimate this exercise, but the truth is that if you painted that apple well, you would have learnt many basic things about figurative painting.
Carmen Gandía’s contribution to the still life in painting is varied and considerable, as you will to see in the first phase of the website dedicated to her. Although, like me, her favourite themes revolve around landscape painting in oil.