Still Life

“White Roses in a Vase” Frans Mortelmans (Belgian, 1865-1936)

The loss of my aunt, who was the oldest member of my family left (leaving me next in line), plus the general political uncertainty and violence of this past year have increased my need for still life paintings and photographs.

I am drawn to all types of still life painting except those in which recently killed fowl, rabbits, and other small creatures are shown, lying lifeless on a table or hung from a hook, about to be cooked and devoured.  Am I, then, a hypocritical lover of nature morte, which Wikipedia defines as “art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which are either natural or man-made”? Why would the act of stilling life be so appealing, when the final stillness for us, the only stillness we humans will ever know (though we don’t really know if we’ll know it when it comes) is death?

I came across the still life above when an art lover I had recently friended on Facebook posted it about a month ago. Immediately, the fresco-like quality of the painting, and the unusual quality of the light caught by the roses, thorns, stems, and leaves, infused me with a deep upswell of feeling followed by relaxation. It was as if I had taken a tense breath in and then exhaled very deeply until I was relaxed.

The truth is that there is something about the pale, barely yellow roses, the crinkly leaves, and the vase with browning water that is not at all realistic. Or better yet, there is something artifactual about the image the Belgian painter Frans Mortelsman created here–a mysterious artifact found and preserved. I looked for more examples of this painter’s works, and found many many paintings of flowers, but none possessed the extraordinary millenials old feeling of  light captured here. I wonder whether this still life was an unusual painting for Mortelsman. Was he trying to make this particular painting look itself like something very old, as the painter Albert Pinkham Ryder often does? Whatever his intent, this painting has become part of my museum of beloved pictures.

Posted in Art

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