Last week, I posted a quote from The Goldfinch, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel penned by Donna Tartt. The quote goes, “They really knew how to work this edge, the Dutch painters–ripeness sliding into rot. The fruit’s perfect, but it won’t last, it’s about to go.” I thought I would elaborate a little on this seemingly pessimistic statement and explore what she (the character in the novel) is referring to; namely, the Dutch Old Master’s obsession with the theme of vanitas.
If you are unfamiliar with vanitas, it is the concept that all earthly things are fleeting; that what is alive and well now will eventually fade and perish. Found frequently in art, especially the Dutch Old Masters’ works—from Utrecht to Willem van Aelst, vanitas is implied by the opulence and lushness of produce, flowers, and animals that seem everlasting, but are in fact not. The most obvious allusion to vanitas is the skull, but more discreet references are there to be discovered as well for those who look closely.
Following in the same tradition that the Old Masters perfected, our contemporary Dutch painters explore this theme. In Frans Van der Wal’s “Cherries and Copper,” we see plump cherries at the peak of ripeness—so detailed we can almost taste their sweetness. They are David’s “Napoleon Crossing the Alps,” the Titanic before it sank…
We also see a rusted copper pot that is humbled in the presence of the over-the-top luscious cherries. In my opinion, the pot is enriched by the toll that time has taken on it—it has a character and warmth that is inviting, rather than a sterilized or boastful quality. Either way, Van der Wal presents an intriguing mélange of beauty and decay that I can’t quite get out of my head.
What do you think of the scene? Did you ever think that a still-life could be so intriguing?