Many of Winslow Homer’s images of the Bahamas evoke the idea of the island as a paradise created especially for tourists. Enjoying local fruits was perceived as a fundamental luxury of the visitor experience, as one contemporary guidebook noted: “Oranges to daily break our fast in the morning, and delightfully crown our afternoon meal, are felt to be a necessity. Without them the most elaborate feast fails to satisfy.” This vibrant watercolor, Oranges On a Branch (1885), a rare still life by the artist, offers a complete sensory experience — ripe citrus, bright green leaves, and fragrant blossoms are bathed in warm sunlight.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as Part of Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents, on Exhibit Through July 31st, 2022.
Like most still life’s, Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life #57 (1969–70) presents a number of ordinary objects — including an orange, a bouquet of flowers, a light switch, a radio, and a checked tablecloth. The artist spent three years developing this monumental work. The “main difficult . . . and the one that took so long to resolve as cropping or not cropping the radio,“ he said. “I wanted to crop it to keep it more in a painting reference rather than something like a stage set.”
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
Giorgio de Chirico’s work represents an unexpected form of classicism in early avant-garde painting. The Philosopher’s Conquest (1913 – 14), one of six in a series, combines a Mediterranean cityscape with familiar still-life objects that appear in many of the artists’s paintings, including a classical arcade, a cannon and cannonballs, a clock, chimney and a train. The stage set is an Italian piazza, virtually deserted except for the menacing, shadowy figures outside the edge of the scene. Rendered with a matter-of-fact — though intentionally crude — precision, de Chirico’s paintings seem rife with meaning but are resolutely enigmatic. Indeed, by juxtaposing incongruous objects, he sought to produce a metaphysical art, one that “resembles . . . the restlessness of myth.”
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) was fascinated by the animal bones, weathered and worn, that she found in the desert in New Mexico. In Red and Pink Rocks and Teeth she presented a jawbone alongside two stacked rocks that appear both monumental and indeterminate. The smooth, rounded forms of the red and pinks rocks appear in enigmatic relation to one another, as the red pebble seems to recede from the picture plane even though it must be perched on top of the pink stone. Their abstracted forms and warm colors contrast sharply with the bleached, angular teeth and hard, cracked appearance of the jawbone and together construct a tromp l’ceil that questions the nature or representation and perception.
A native of Vitebsk, Mikhail Kunin (1897 – 1972) received artist training from Yuri (Yehuda) Pen and then attended the People’s Art School from 1919 to 1921, taking classes with Marc Chagall and then Kazimir Malevich. Kunin painted this still life, with its colorful objects during Chagall’s class. Its title, Art of the Commune (1919), is inscribed on the lower left, along with the Russian words for ‘Futurists’ and ‘Leap into the future.’ Ambitious and involved, Kunin was a member of the School’s student executive committee and its Communist Counsel. Although he studied under Malevich, he continued to work in a figurative style, not hesitating to criticize Suprematism and its practitioners, notably for what he said were their nihilism and their tendency to destroy painterly culture.