Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

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Photographs by Sharon Core currently on view at the Phillips

My very first experience in a museum was, as far as I can remember, intimidating. I over-distanced myself from Auguste Rodin’s exquisite bronze sculptures for fear that I would fail to resist the impulse to touch them and get myself into trouble.

I felt a similar impulse when I ran into Sharon Core’s series of works in a second floor gallery at the Phillips today. Although the experience wasn’t intimidating this time, the temptation to touch the work was as hard to resist. This time, it wasn’t a sculpture; yet as solid and life-like. The photographs’ three-dimensional quality and tangibility tricked my eyes into thinking that what I saw was a real object.

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Sharon Core, Peaches and Blackberries, 2008. Chromogenic print, 13 1/2 x 17 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, 2015

I had to stare at the works for a while to decide whether these were photos or paintings; their subject, composition, and painterly quality instantly reminded me of still life paintings from the 19th century. As speculated, Core was inspired by the compositions of 19th century American still life painter Raphaelle Peale. By meticulously rendering details and emphasizing texture, Core overcomes the limitations of photography and captures features that would have been hard to see even in real life. In fact, the highly contrasting lights, vibrant coloration, and the lustrous texture of the objects are all pictorial elements that could have only been achieved through the labor-intensive process of assembling the materials and arranging the setting.

Across the room hangs a row of still life paintings by post-Impressionist artists. One of them is Paul Cézanne’s Glass and Apples, which is rather muted in tone with no striking tactile appeal. With the emergence and development of photography in his time, Cézanne would have found no point in creating a photo-realistic representation; rather, he was more concerned with capturing the very essence of painting and conveying his own perception of the subject.

Ironically enough, Core’s vibrantly colored, highly-staged photographs that imitate the style of still life painters predating Cézanne, hang right across from his rather simple composition.

As FotoWeek is approaching, come visit the Phillips and take a look into Core’s work that jumps across the boundary between painting and photography. What about Core’s prints is similar to Cézanne’s painting? What’s different?

Summer Park, Marketing & Communications Intern

Collection Comparisons: Cézanne’s Still Lifes

In the Collection Comparisons series, we pair one work from Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland with a similar work from the Phillips’s own permanent collection.

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(left) Paul Cézanne, Glass and Apples, 1879–1882. Oil on canvas, 12 3/8 x 15 3/4 in. The Rudolf Staechelin Collection © Kunstmuseum Basel, Martin P. Bühler (right) Paul Cézanne, Ginger Pot with Pomegranate and Pears, 1893. Oil on canvas, 18 1/4 x 21 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of Gifford Phillips in memory of his father, James Laughlin Phillips, 1939

Paul Cézanne painted almost 200 still lifes over the course of four decades. By the late 1870s, he focused on household items, such as clusters of fruit, cloth, and a vessel. In 1879, Cézanne produced a series of 11 still lifes, each arranged on a chest set before bluish floral wallpaper. Rudolf Staechelin purchased Glass and Apples, at left above, in 1918.

Painted over a decade later, The Phillips Collection’s Ginger Pot with Pomegranate and Pears by Cézanne (above right, and on view in a gallery adjacent to the special exhibition) shares formal motifs with the Staechelin example, including a display of fruit set on furniture before similar wallpaper. Both paintings were formerly owned by Impressionist artists: the Phillips still life was in Claude Monet’s collection, while Staechelin’s canvas was featured in Ambroise Vollard’s first solo show of Cézanne’s work in 1895 and shortly thereafter purchased by Edgar Degas for 400 francs.

Close inspection of the two works side by side also reveals a key difference. While Cézanne keeps the focus in the foreground in Glass and Apples, the artist adds depth and complexity to Ginger Pot with Pomegranate and Pears by including a second table in the upper left portion of the painting as well as an artfully arranged piece of patterned cloth that hangs along the top edge of the composition.

New Year’s Resolution: Eat Healthily

Edzard_Fruit and Plate

Dietz Edzard, Fruit and Plate, not dated. Oil on canvas mounted on wood panel, 8 3/8 x 11 in. Acquired 1930. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Bonbright_Green apples

Sybil Bonbright, Green Apples, ca. 1944. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in. Acquired 1944. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Keller_Autumn Fruits

Henry G. Keller, Autumn Fruits, not dated. Oil on canvas, 32 1/8 x 40 in. Acquired 1923. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC