Rethinking the Still Life: Wood, Calder, Dewing, Glackens and Kelley

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle

Christie’s recently gave collectors a view of still life paintings that were game changers in the history of art and are to be sold at upcoming auctions.

Named as one of the “10 still lifes that moved us” on the Christie’s site, is a work by Jonas Wood, one of our favorite contemporary artists.

Jonas Wood

Jonas Wood
Shelf Still Life, 2018
Lithograph and silkscreen
32 x 26 inches
Signed For sale at Surovek Gallery

Wood uses personal objects in his works, including ceramic pots and bowls made by his wife, sculptor Shio Kusaka, with whom he shares a studio in Culver City.

Although the works of Jonas Wood are not what is typically thought of as still life, many do fit the definition; the still life is a piece that features an arrangement of inanimate objects.

Even Alexander Calder, whose work inspired Wood, did still lifes that are not typical, but are still inspiring.

Alexander Calder
Enmeshed Jewel, 1969
Gouache on paper
29 x 42.5 inches
Signed and dated (l.r.)
Registration #A14428
For sale at Surovek Gallery

The earliest known still life paintings were created by the Egyptians in the 15th century BCE. Paintings of everyday objects were found at funeral sites, possibly to give solace to the soul.

During the Middle Ages, still lifes were used to depict religious themes, during the Renaissance artists painted flowers, and Dutch artists added everyday objects to their works.

Modern artists like Van Gogh and Cezanne kept the genre alive. Both personal, and sometimes practical, placing meaningful objects on a table, indoors, is often preferable to braving rain and snow to paint a landscape.

Maria Oakey Dewing
Spring Flowers with Roses, Daffodils and Larkspur, 1923
Oil on canvas
24 x 14 inches
Signed and dated: Maria Oakey Dewing 1923
For sale at Surovek Gallery

Maria Oakey Dewing (1845 – 1927) was a classically trained painter. She was a founding member of the Art Students League of New York and an avid gardener.

It was the flowers she grew that inspired her. “The flower offers a removed beauty that exists only for beauty,” she wrote, “more abstract than it can be in the human being, even more exquisite. One may begin with the human figure at the logical and realistic, but in painting the flower one must even begin at the exquisite and distinguished.”

Married to figure painter, Thomas Dewing, she felt that his career eclipsed hers, even though she won bronze medals at several expositions and her works are included in the permanent collections at the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art.

William Glackens
Fruit on Plate with Knife
Oil on Canvas
13 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches
For sale at Surovek Gallery

More typical of what we would readily identify as a still life is William Glackens’ (1870-1938) Fruit on Plate with Knife. Although he was a founding member of the Ashcan School, Glackens broke away from the group and began to use brighter colors and more serene, often joyful, subject matter.

Glackens was not only a great painter, but his friendship with Alfred Barnes led to his helping to establish the Barnes Foundation. Glackens not only brought works from Paris to America, but also advised Barnes on how best to enhance his collection.

Scott Kelley
Swamp (Pages 4-5), 2019
Watercolor and graphite on paper
15 x 22 inches
For sale at Surovek Gallery

An artist’s sketch book can be a very personal and intimate look at the operation of the mind of the artists. Scott Kelley b. 1963), lives in Maine and visits the Florida Everglades to paint the flora and fauna.

Scott Kelley
Swamp (Pages 10-11), 2019
Watercolor and graphite on paper
15 x 22 inches
For sale at Surovek Gallery

Kelley has been generous in sharing pages from the sketch book that he used during a 2019 trip to the swamp lands of Florida. The arrangement on many of the pages are surprisingly different than the realistic and detailed work that we are used to seeing in his works. They are light and whimsical objects that Kelley has drawn and painted. They fit the definition of still life, and are refreshingly unique.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the still lifes, or any of the other fine art work available at Surovek Gallery.

Christie’s. Flowers, fruit, flasks and coffee pots: 10 still lifes that move us. February 25, 2021.
Kelly Richman-Abdou. How Artists Have Kept Still Life Painting Alive Over Thousands of Years. My Modern Met. May 31, 2018.
2021-03-19T09:01:49-04:00 March 11th, 2021|

Want to learn more about a particular artist or work? Contact us.