(Roughly) Daily

“… life, by definition, is never still”*…

“Still Life With a Gilt Cup,” Willem Claesz Heda, 1635

Jason Farago explores some of the extraordinary things that a still life can tell us…

When you visit a museum’s collection of European painting, do you skip by the still lifes and head for the showier stuff?

It’s understandable. Their scale is usually smaller than that of other paintings. Their prices are lower. They can feel straightforward: Pictures of fruit and fowl, cups and bottles, what do you want from me?

Still life had a bum reputation for centuries. Early critics rated them as something less than high art…

[There follows a wonderful– and wonderfully-illustrated– close reading of the painting above, and an exploration of its reflections of its place in a globalizing moment in Dutch and world history…]

… this is the power of still life. It’s here, more than any other mode of art, that this social and economic life of things becomes visible.

Inside and between these carefully observed objects is a narrative of global scale. It’s a tale Heda tells even despite himself…

Art may show you the connections for just a moment. They will always be hazy. But some motions can only be sensed when you’re standing still.

A marvelous visual essay: “A Messy Table, a Map of the World” (unlocked), from @jsf— part of the “Close Read” series in @nytimes.

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we uncover connections, we might send observant birthday greetings to an artist who painted still lifes (and other forms) to a different end, Georges Braque; he was born on this date in 1882. With his friend, collaborator, and rival, Pablo Picasso, he was central to the development of Cubism.

Georges Braque, “Five Bananas and Two Pears” [source]
Georges Braque, 1908, photograph published in Gelett Burgess, “The Wild Men of Paris”, Architectural Record, May 1910 [source]
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