Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Fruits Of His Labours

Last week, whilst in London, I spent an hour or two in the National Gallery. It's free, and it is wonderful - I usually have a look at one or two pictures I know, and then go and find a painting or artist about whom I know nothing, but which catches my eye. The 'Rokeby Venus' is always a comfort [if she is considered a great beauty, then my thighs aren't that bad after all]  and [on a more spiritual note] Caravaggio's "Supper At Emmaus" is a special favourite. 
I noticed two small still-lifes [still-lives?] by the same artist, and went to sit on a banquette in the next room to copy the details into my Filofax. A member of the information staff looked at me quizzically, and so I went and said what I was doing. I asked if she enjoyed working in the NG. "Especially first thing in the morning, before the public arrived" she said, smiling "Because then I feel as if the paintings are all mine!" She was from Japan, and said her best friend had lived in Paris but had only visited the Louvre twice "She tells me it is too expensive and the queues are too long" We agreed that such a resource as the NG is important.

These were the two pictures I looked at on Wednesday
"Still life with Oranges and Walnuts" and "Still life with Lemons and Oranges"
Both by Luis Meléndez, a Spanish artist who lived from 1716-1780 - in relative poverty despite his talent. A review in the New York Times of a 2009 exhibition of his work said that
Meléndez desperately sought appointment as a salaried court artist like his contemporary Francisco Goya, but his petitions to the king were rejected. So instead of producing portraits of nobles and grandiose history paintings, he painted small, intensely realistic pictures of fruit, vegetables and kitchenware. Today he is considered the greatest still-life painter of 18th-century Spain.

The arrangements of comestibles, crockery and cookware and the occasional piece of fine silver or porcelain imply a humble, folksy lifestyle that appealed to his upper-class clientele. What is captivating is the near-photographic verisimilitude. The leathery grain of a cantaloupe hide, the gleam of copper pots; the spongy insides of a broken bread loaf, the dull grain of old wood, the transparency of glass: everything is seen with a near-microscopic attention to detail and rendered with an almost imperceptible painterly touch. Piled oranges … glow as though lighted from within. …How Meléndez achieved the degree of realism he did is something of a mystery. 
Which sums up beautifully what I felt when I saw these paintings. I wanted to stroke the shiny thick skin of the fruits, pick them up and smell their perfume, open the round wooden boxes of membrillo quince paste, lift up the heavy terracotta jugs of wine [and find someone stronger than myself to crack open a few more walnuts!]
Here is a self portait from the Louvre - and below,“Still Life With Box of Jellied Fruit, Bread, Silver Salver, Glass and Wine Cooler.”
from the Prado in Madrid. But to see either of these, you'd have to pay entrance fees!

Just look at the light on the glassware, and the reflection of the wooden wine cooler in the silver salver - amazing! I really enjoyed spending time looking at the details in these paintings, and finding out more about the man. And I am grateful for the time and the opportunity to do so.


  1. His work is excellent. I really like still life!!x

  2. So lovely to have had that opportunity to see such works of art.

  3. I particularly like the first one, Angela. I love the National Gallery too - so long as I restrict myself to only a few works - otherwise it is overwhelming. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  4. my son worked for a Health and Safety Consultancy and one of their clients was the National Gallery. I think he got a bit fed up going to London from Norwich after a couple of years.

  5. You have a great mind, Ang. You love to learn.

  6. I love still life paintings too - the detail in these is magnificent. And we are so lucky that so many of our galleries & museums are free - we really should use them as much as possible!! I used to enjoy popping into the National portrait gallery for 30 minutes or so when I ived in London


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