Art History: Grade 4 Lesson 5

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ART AS IT CHANGES - Still Life & Landscape


With this lesson we are stepping away from the Renaissance and its concept of art as a mirror of the World. By comparing and contrasting landscapes and still life of the 17th to 18th century, we can find other ideas of art emerging. Paintings could be factual or idealized, romantic or fantastic. They could be soothing or frightening; a show of accuracy or a show of emotion.

Still life and landscapes seem to have flourished in the more democratic country of Holland as early as the time of Breugel and Rembrandt. the simplicity of still life composition also found favour with the Dutch, since quiet arrangements of fruits, flowers, oysters and ceramics were visible evidence of the good life. A rich merchant could decorate his home in town with small, quiet landscapes or seascapes.



Instead of carefully classifying the schools of painting, you may compare and contrast several paintings at one time. Some sample questions are: 
bulletDo you think these pictures were painted outside or are they purely works of imagination, painted in the studio? (Artists like Boucher often composed their landscapes like small stage settings in the studio using small rocks and stones with sprigs of parsley for trees.) Courbet, on the other hand, sketched outdoors from nature before finishing the painting in the studio or he used the camera as an aid. 
bulletAre the clouds in the sky convincing and accurate or are they more of a decorating backdrop? 
bulletCan you tell what month of the year or hour of the day it is? 
bulletWhy do you think people paint landscapes?
bulletDo you remember an outdoor scene that you might like to paint? How much of the scene would you have in your picture?
bulletWould you paint your scene from memory or go to the spot and set up your paints?
bulletHow do you think this scene would look from a bird's eye view - from an ant's view?
bulletThink of sounds and smells in the picture.



  1. Garden Gaiety, , Jan van Huysum, Dutch (1682-1749), oil, Reproduction photograph.
    Jan van Huysum was a Dutch artist primarily known as a flower painter although he also did landscapes. His father had also been a floral artist. These paintings are an ornamental display of technical skill. They do not represent any emotions or make us feel the poetry of the flowers. They are not even true to nature; even with all the insects. You would never see all these flowers blooming at the same time. light colors, lighter backgrounds and openness of intricate compositions are distinguishing features of 18th century Dutch floral paintings.
    bulletvan Huysum Biography - Wallace Collection


  2. Still Life with Lobster and Jug, , Abraham van Beyeren, Dutch (1620/1-1690), oil on canvas, Kunsthaus, Zurich. Reproduction print.
    Abraham van Beyeren is one of the finest Dutch painters of still life. At first he was known as a fish painter and his teacher was probably a fish painter. The fish in his paintings always seemed to look as though they were fresh from the sea. He later painted sumptuous banquet tables laden with silver and gold and Venetian glassware on Damask, satin or velvet table coverings. Opulence, reality and material wealth are the true subjects. The realism of nature is seen in the dusty and translucent grapes, the fuzzy skins of the peaches, but the light is dramatic to create rounded forms and deep shadows. Notice the blown drapery to magnify the impression of grandeur.


  3. Nature Morte, c.1759, Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin, French (1699-1779), oil on canvas, private collection. Reproduction print.
     Jean Chardin was born in 1699 into a bourgeois household; he was the son of a cabinetmaker. In spite of his later success, he would always paint this solid, honest class. Even though his subject matter was not favored, his talent was recognized, and he was accepted into the Royal Academy to which he even became the Treasurer. Chardin was inspired by the Flemish and Dutch masters and wanted to paint precise, un-glorified pictures of reality - but not too precise. When the flower or fish is pierced too sharply by the attention of the artist, it becomes dead like the game which is pierced by the hunter's arrow. "They have become objects of mental or physical possession, material for study or food for the table. They are Nature Morte - The French term for Still life. Chardin thought of textures and densities. He said "one uses colors to paint, but one paints with feeling." - not just technical skill. he always painted from nature. His objects are not defined by sharp outline but by highlights which bring near objects forward and shadows that heighten the illusion of depth. He paid as much attention to design as color. Sometimes he painted a subject several times, each time more simplified. He was concerned not with the imitation of objects but with the poetry of common things and rich pigment.
    bulletChardin Biography   and here with pictures


  4. Sideboard, 1928, Henri Matisse, French (1869-1954), canvas, Musée d'Arte Moderne, Paris, Reproduction print.
        Henri Matisse was the leader of the Fauve Movement and one of the most creative French artists of the 20th Century. His early years in Paris were spent working in the studio of Gustave Moreau and in copying the Old Masters in the Louvre. The development of his style reflects the influence of contemporary artistic currents. Finding the Impressionists' and Pointillists' use of colour limited, Matisse used brilliant color, arranged and controlled in simple flat areas, found expression expression in a wide range of subjects; still life, interior scenes, and portraits. Criticized in France, Matisse found encouragement in the patronage of Gertrude Stein and the Russian collectors, Stichonkine and Rocasoff, who helped gain recognition for his work. Matisse settled in Nice in 1917 and continued to explore the possibilities of light and colour, deliberately and eloquently reduced to their essentials. Examples of his meticulous method are to be seen in his careful pen sketches with sharp, clean lines. Bedridden after a serious operation in 1941, Matisse began to experiment with brightly-painted paper which he cut into imaginative shapes and arranged in vivacious compositions. 
         The culmination of Matisse's creative activity is visible today in the Dominican Chapel in Venice, for which he designed everything from the stained glass windows, the liturgical objects, and vestments to the tiles on the roof and the cross in the tower. The total effect of the stark white walls with black-line drawings opposite the shimmering blue green windows is one of a radiantly spiritual serenity. Matisse's still life is included in this lesson as an example of the development of design with colour. The overall design and the colours are more important to Matisse than a realistic portrayal of the subject matter.
    bulletMatisse - Biography


  5. Le Moulin, , François Boucher, French (1703-1770), oil on canvas, Reproduction print.
     Boucher was a stage designer and master decorator for Louis XV and Madame Pompadour. He was born in 1703, the son of a mediocre painter and was apprenticed in 1720 to François Le Moine. he found success through the Academy in 1734. His paintings were sensual, naughty, stylish and decorative. The landscapes are idyllic with flirtatious shepherds and shepherdesses. Actually the peasants were starving; but in his paintings they are dresses like nobility. Nothing is made to look natural. The trees are too leafy; the lighting and grass are made for the stage. This was a period when plain appearance was thought vulgar; everyone wore wigs and rouge. The works of Boucher reflect the informal elegance of polite society which, in its search for pleasure, turned reality into myth - a myth that was soon shattered by the French Revolution.

    He objected to the natural world because it was "too green and badly lit."

    bulletBoucher - Biography


  6. The Old Mill, , John Constable, English (1776-1837), oil on canvas and sketch, Reproduction print.
  7. Wivenhoe Park, 1816, John Constable, English (1776-1837), oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
    John Constable was among the first painters to paint outdoors. He tried to match oil colours to nature's by quick studies on paper - then he finished the painting in the studio. Above all, he loved the English landscape. he was interested in capturing unpredictable and fleeting changes of atmosphere. His skies are dramatically painted to catch the infinitely varied intensities of light on clear, showery or foggy days - and the changing reflections of the many coloured sky and passing clouds on water. Critics often made fun of the whites which he added to make water look sparkling and to add depth of shadow. They called it "Constable's Snow". Although his work was not popular in England, it made an impact internationally. His landscapes were larger than acceptable. After the death of his wife, he painted nature more freely with loose rapid strokes. Now whole finished canvasses looked like his earlier sketches. He was always striving for the simple truth in nature. Constable's father was a miller. 

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    The Old Mill

    bulletConstable - Biography


  8. Rockets and Blue Lights, 1840, Joseph Mallord William Turner, English (1775-1851) oil, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, Reproduction print.
    Turner was a contemporary of Constable and is included in this lesson for comparison. There is a story that Turner once demanded to be lashed to the spar on a deck of a steamboat during a storm, just to experience the elements. Theme and style mattered less than the actual experience of painting itself, which was a reflection of life's experience and fashion dictated that landscape painters seek drama in nature. Turner used colour and light for their own sake rather than a part of a reflection on the landscape. 

    Turner was born into a simple family in London's Covent Garden. At an early age he was admitted to the Royal Academy where he showed great talent and practical intelligence. By the time he was 15, the Royal Academy exhibited his work, and three years later he had his own studio. The first period of his career was spent painting watercolours with Thomas Girtin, and doing topographical drawings with Dr. Munro, resulting in new effects of free handling and bright colours. Although Turner exhibited his first oil painting around 1796, his mature style did not reveal itself until he visited Italy in 1819 and in the years following. These oils and watercolour sketches, which emphasize the atmospheric effects of light, are romantic in style and "incomplete" in appearance. They created criticism at the time but have since proved, in their coloristic innovations, to be a revolutionary influence on modern art, particularly on the development of Impressionism. These 19th Century artists, called Romantics, developed into various school of landscape painting, each reflecting a different aspect of nature's character. For Turner and others, nature was serene in his small, lyrical scenes. Other landscapists ignores extremes and defined nature's reality themselves. Their painting often captured nature's moods, for example, Caspar David Freidrich's "Tree with Crows".


    Rockets and Blue Lights

        Exploding in the distance beyond the beach's reflections and the crashing surf is a white burst of rockets, framed by the glow of blue lights which signal danger. Two steamers lost from sight but sending their thick smoke swirling up into the sky, are being warned of shoals. Rockets and Blue Lights, like so many other late Turner paintings, deals with the elemental forces of nature. A storm has passed; waves pound the shore. Man, insignificant and helpless is here watching as a quiet group of spectators, one holding a spyglass.     The meaning of this painting, however, is not conveyed by specific details. When Turner exhibited this painting at the Royal Academy in 1840, he entitled it "Rockets with Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steam-Boats of Shoal-Water". Yet the glowing colors, the suggestive shapes, and the swirling forms developed around diagonals all tell of excitement and danger far better than any individual detail. Turner appeals to the emotions; like all Romantics he had a creative imagination.

    bulletTurner - Biography  (scroll down on this page)


  9. Wedding Cake Still Life, 1640, Clara Peters, Dutch (Flemish) (1594-1657) reproduction print.
     Now the Middle class begins purchasing art. A new genre of still life comes into being, along with seascapes, landscapes and portraits.

    Costly items can be painted into small still-life. Although the owner might never afford them, the painting contains and shows them off.

    Interesting items to note in this still life:

    Wedding Cake

    Venetian Glass

    Blue and white porcelain


    Rosemary - fidelity

    Knife - a traditional wedding gift (note the signature of the artist here)

    Imported fruit


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