Saturday, 31 May 2008

Clara Peters, fish and cat

The oyster depicted freshness obviously, possibly also with other foods, there was supper to be had here too in painting food for a hungry artist.

The still life school is usually categorised as one of three styles, banquet, kitchen or breakfast. They may have had some symbolism in the choice of items or maybe the settings were just deliberate manifestations of luxury and abundance. As women were closer to the food, some began to challenge the male trades, notably Clara Peeters.

Her tones are still rich, elegant, and domestically formal. She, like others, liked to introduce a cat as if it were about to steal the opened oysters or inviting the viewer to shoo it away. It was her meticulous visual descriptions that impressed, and still do. In her Still Life of Fish and Cat a reddish ceramic colander holds several fish, including an eel whose long, slender body forms a prominent loop that adds visual interest to the upper left-hand portion of the painting. You can see the textures plainly - slippery fish scales, thickly glazed clay, the cat's fur, and the contrast between the rough shell of the open oyster and the gleaming pewter dish on which it rests.
There are other hints too - the small fish on which the cat has firmly planted its front paws and some subtler details, like the two small gouges on the near edge of the wooden table, the cat’s ears are pointed back, alert to any potential interloper. Animals from cats to monkeys appear regularly in seventeenth-century Flemish still lifes, although cats were apparently not necessarily regarded as welcome pets at that time