Still Life, Montenegro & Creative Explanation

Still life painted at The Faculty of Fine Arts in Cetinje, Montenegro

While working in Montenegro two decades ago I came across the painting in the photo above, which is in our dining room.

“Still Life With a Gilt Cup” painted in 1635 by Willem Claesz Heda, displayed in the grand central gallery of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

In our travels over several decades I was on the lookout for a reasonably priced painting like the one to the right, featured in the article below. Soft, luscious, and full of items to wonder about, the style made classic by Dutch still life painters was my hoped for find. Instead, I found the one in Montenegro, which nods to traditional form but is stark.

Willem Kalf, “Still Life with a Chinese Bowl, Nautilus Cup and Other Objects,” 1662/Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

It seemed perfectly attuned to my personal experience of Montenegro at that moment. While not typical of the themes we cover in these pages, but continuing with our admiration for creative approaches to explanation, this piece by Jason Farago will make your Sunday if, like me, you have a thing for still life paintings and do not know exactly why. It is one of the longest explanatory multi-media articles we have ever linked to, but if you have the time it is as effective as any museum docent. Most importantly for me, it explains the tradition of lemons that wittingly or not, the Montenegran painter was adding to:

Willem Claesz Heda, “Still Life With a Broken Glass,” 1642/Rijksmuseum

A Messy Table, a Map of the World

It was a grand time, but the party’s over.

The guests are gone. The servants will clean up later. In this silent room, all that remains are the leftovers, and some luxurious tableware.

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?…

Experience the whole discussion here.

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