Still Life

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Teacher Resource Pack
Still Life
Key Stages 3, 4 & 5
Colour and composition
Evaristo Baschenis (1617 – 1677)
Still-life with Musical Instruments, 1660
Italy
Look closely at this picture for 30 seconds!
Q. What can you see?
 Lots of musical instruments, including a violin which sits on
top of a shiny black box. Q. What do we keep in boxes?
What could be inside this box?
This is a jewellery box. There is another little red box inside
it.
The instrument on the left of the painting with a five sided
top is called a spinettino.
The stripy instrument behind the spinettino, and the
instrument on the far right are both lutes. Q. What kind of
material do they look like they are made out of?
There are two books in the painting.
There is a fruit, possibly an orange, next to the violin.
A spinettino
Q. What is at the top of the picture? A red and gold
curtain, which has been pulled back to reveal the scene below.
Style and symbolism
Q. Is this a photograph?
Q. Why might some people think it’s a photograph?
Everything is painted very realistically, notice the dust painted on the lute on the right.
Q.There is something wrong with the violin on top of the box, what is the matter with it?
All of its strings are broken .
Q. Why might the strings be broken?
The artist, who was also a priest and a deeply religious man, may have painted the broken violin and the dusty
lutes in this manner in keeping with the vanitas tradition of still life painting.
 A vanitas is a still life intended to remind the viewer of the short lived nature of worldly possessions; the
futility of human accomplishments; and the inevitability of death.
 The violin with the broken string may, therefore, refer to the futility of pleasure.
 The orange, (like the apple) could be said to symbolise the fruit of temptation.
 The ornate jewellery box may be a symbol of human greed.
 Baschenis’ signature on the spinettino could be a reflection on the futility of his own creative endeavours as
an artist.
Q. Why do you think the artist has included a curtain? What effect does this have?
The curtain adds a sense of drama to the painting.
Colour and composition
Jan Davidsz de Heem
Still Life with Nautilus Cup, 1632
Netherlands
Look at this picture for 30 seconds!
Q. How old do you think it is? It’s 379 years old
Q. What do you see?
Whole lemon, lemon peel, slices of lemon, grapes,
grapevine, walnut, silver plate, bowl (on its side), vase, cup or
‘tazza’ (which has been knocked over), a nautilus cup; a
precious drinking cup with a nautilus shell, table with dark
table cloth.
Q. Do you think everyone had objects like this 379
years ago, or would they have been rare and
expensive? Who might have used objects like this?
Q. Did the artist find these objects like this or did he
arrange them carefully? He arranged them carefully.
Context



De Heem was a Dutch artist who made this painting when the
Netherlands (Dutch Republic) was at war with Spain.
The Netherlands was becoming very rich and powerful at this
time, but it was also a Protestant country where large scale
religious images were shunned in favour of small scale still life
paintings in domestic settings rather than churches.
Although this painting is smaller and much more subdued than
the grand religious paintings made by catholic artists, the
objects in this painting would have all been extremely hard to
source, and therefore very expensive – markers of status and
wealth.
The Nautilus Cup
 Below is a ‘nautilus’- a deep sea creature. It’s shell
was used to make nautilus cups. It is a prehistoric
creature, still alive today. It is only found in certain parts
of the Indian and Pacific Oceans– hundreds of miles
away from the Netherlands!
The nautilus is a
mollusk and a member
of the cephalopod
family. It is closely
related to other
cephalopods such as the
squid, cuttlefish, and
octopus.
Symbolism:
Lemons at that time
were a rarity in Holland,
and were therefore considered to be rather
precious. They also grew all year round
which could be a reference to fertility.
Grapes are also used in art often referring
to the use of wine by Christians to
celebrate the Eucharist, and of
course wine was consumed
at the Last Supper.
Colour and composition
Francois Bonvin (1817 – 1887)
The Attributes of Painting, about1879
France
Look at this picture for 30 seconds!
Q. What kind of objects can you see in this
painting?
There is a large brown folder (a portfolio) in the
background which is full of paper, in front of this
there is a rolled up piece of paper, some paintbrushes
and a paint palette on top of a leather paint box,
with a pink rose.
At the front, there is an inkwell, a red tube of
paintbrushes, three tubes of paint and a piece of
chalk.
Q. What kind of person would have used materials like these?
A painter. Francois Bonvin has painted the materials of his profession.
If you look closely at portfolio, it’s possible to make out a face. We don’t know if this was intentional, or coincidental.
Q.What do you think?
Style and symbolism

Bonvin was attached to the Realist movement – a group of painters who rejected the popular
mythological, historical and religious subjects of the day in favour of scenes from everyday life. They wanted
to portray the world around them as they saw it.

Mass produced tubes of paint had only recently been invented when this painting was made. Before that
artists had to buy all their own raw materials which they then had to grind down and mix with linseed oil.,
then they stored their paints in pigs bladders! By including tubes of paint in this picture, Bonvin is proudly
showing his audience what the modern-day materials of a painter look like.

Q. Do you think that Bonvin carefully arranged everything in this picture, or did he simply
find these objects lying around in this way?
We know that Bonvin wanted to paint the world as he saw it – accurately - but he still probably arranged
this still life scene very carefully. The addition of the rose suggests that the artist still feels connected to
the more symbolic still life paintings that came before.

Q. When do people buy roses for each other? What do they symbolise?
Roses often symbolise love. Bonvin might have included one here as a reference to Louison Kohler, the
woman who was his companion, model and muse for the last seventeen years of his life.
Colour and composition
Joseph-Fernand-Henri Léger (1881- 1955)
Composition with fruit, 1938
France
Look at this picture for 30 seconds!
This is not a painting with objects that we can easily identify. It
is an abstract painting; full of bold shapes and thick black lines,
and it is often up to us to work out what abstract artists were
painting.
Q. What could the round things at the bottom left of
the painting be? apples with worms wriggling out?
Q. In the middle of the painting is a large shape divided
down the centre by a vertical black line. Q. What could
this be? It has shapes cut out of it like a jigsaw puzzle.
Q. What other shapes and patterns can you see?
Q. What is a 3D square called? a cube
a 3D circle? a sphere
Q. What colours does the artist use?
Bold, flat blocks of colour- blue, green, claret, cream and white.
Léger inspired many of the Pop artists!
Q. Can you name any Pop artists?
Context
About the artist…..
Joseph-Fernand-Henri Léger was a French painter, sculptor, and
filmmaker. He initially trained as an architect.
Léger wasn’t interested in direct representation; he was an early
abstract artist and wanted to breakdown the world around him and
paint it in a different and simplified way.
1930’s car
 He was fascinated by modern technology, especially by
motorcars; he loved their precise construction.
Q.Take another look at the painting…could the sharp
shapes in the centre refer to the individual parts of cars?
Léger was in World War I (1914-1918) and it is thought that he
was inspired by the machinery and weaponry used during this time.
Q. So what else could the round shapes be? and the big
shape in the centre?
 Although he loved the bright
colours and new technological
forms of modern life, the apples
with worms inside could also be
said to refer back to more historical
methods of still life painting. Rotten
apples being symbolic of the fall;
when Eve picked the forbidden fruit
and was then expelled from the
garden of Eden. Could Léger, at the
same time as honouring the new
technology of his day, also be
warning us of some future dangers
that it may pose?
Composition and technique
Howard Hodgkin
Artificial Flowers, 1975
England
Look at this painting for 30 seconds!
Q. What can you see? what shapes and colours
can you see? orange circles, red curved shape,
Q. What do the orange shapes above the red
curve look like? oranges in a fruit bowl!
The title of the painting is ‘Artificial Flowers’ –
Q. Can you see any flowers in this picture?
Q. All of the other paintings you have looked at are painted onto canvas.This is different, what is it
painted onto? wood.
Q. Do you notice anything unusual about the frame? There isn’t one! The artist has painted a thick black
line all the way around, which resembles a frame.
Q. How long do you think it took the artist to make this painting?
It might look like it was made quickly, but in fact Hodgkin paints extremely slowly, sometimes taking up to four
years or more to complete a single painting!
Style and context
We might describe this painting as abstract, but Hodgkin himself has always described himself as a representational
painter.
Q. What is abstract art?
Abstract art: ‘art that doesn’t depict recognisable scenes or objects, but instead is made up of forms and colours
that exist for their own expressive sake’.
Q. What is representational art?
Representational art: ‘to look like or to resemble something’.
Instead of representing objects, Hodgkin is interested in representing feelings.
Q. How does this painting make you feel?
His subject matter is often very personal. The titles of his paintings often refer to memories, like parties, dinners
with friends, meetings and departures.
Q. Is this a happy or sad picture?......
What colours do we associate with being happy? what are warm colours?
pinks, reds, yellows, oranges
What colours do we associate with being sad? what are cold colours?
blues and greens

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