New Swope Exhibition, Still Life: Quiet Revelation

Varaldo Cariani, Bowl of Zinnias, 1962

A new exhibition of still life paintings from the Swope Art Museum collection has opened at the Museum and is on view through August 20, 2010.  Still Life: Quiet Revelation features over twenty-five paintings from the late nineteenth-century to the present illustrating many different perspectives on the still life.  While some are pure still life paintings and represent inanimate natural objects or those from daily life, others feature details of still lifes as part of a larger composition.

Curator of Exhibitions and Programs Lisa Petrulis said, “The Swope has some stunning examples of still lifes on view in this small exhibition.”  She noted, “It was an anguishing task to narrow the list, but it was a pleasure to learn more about the history of the genre. I think visitors will find a satisfying variety of work and may even know one of the artists as several are from Terre Haute or nearby in Indiana.”

Still life images have been found in historical cultures as far back as ancient Egypt. In the Middle Ages, highly symbolic still lifes served the Christian religion as objects for contemplation and moral guidance.  However, in the study of western art, still life for-its-own-sake was not developed until the Renaissance era when it became a popular subject for artists and collectors.  Painters of still lifes struggled to be taken seriously in the art world and were considered second to those artists who created paintings with subjects drawn from history, mythology and the Bible.  But some painters, especially those in northern Europe, were able to find a lucrative still life market in the increasingly wealthy middle class patrons who required more intimate paintings for their homes.  It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that respected artists were allowed to escape painting epic historical and religious works and more freely pursue still lifes, pure landscapes and other subject.

Myra Schuetter, What a Fruitcake!, 1998

Local artists included in the exhibition are Louise B. Hansen, Fran Lattanzio and Barbara Bonness Weber.  Indiana artists included are Varaldo Cariani, William Crutchfield, Brad Fugate and Myra Schuetter.  Barton Stone Hays’ painting Tabletop Still Life makes its gallery debut as part of this exhibition.  Tabletop Still Life was acquired for the Swope Art Museum’s collection and Wabash Valley community through the Genevieve H., Mary E., and Deborah Lynn Cramer Memorial Fund and gift of Eckert & Ross Fine Art, Indianapolis, Indiana.  Hays was an important artist and educator in Indiana in the nineteenth century and provides a direct connection to other artists and work in the collection, including a still life painting by William Merritt Chase who was one of his students.  Even though it is smaller canvas at 22×31 inches, Hays’ Tabletop Still Life is one of the three largest canvases known to exist by the artist.

Visitors to the exhibition can take the opportunity to create their own still life from objects available in the gallery and then try their hand at drawing what they have arranged.  Visitors are also encouraged to send photographs or drawings of still lifes for inclusion on the Swope blog to with the subject line ‘still life blog.’  Petrulis said, “I hope visitors will take advantage of the hands-on activities to deepen their understanding of still life composition.”