Friday, September 08, 2017

An architectural view surrounded by trompe-l’oeil elements

 Charles-Joseph Flipart, Landscape with an architectural view surrounded by trompe-l’oeil elements symbolising the Arts, c. 1779 
Image from the Prado site for non-commercial use

This painting is two things at once, a still-life and a landscape.  The landscape has a mysterious, De Chirico feel to it, with its strange architectural fragments rendered in slightly unsettling perspective and absence of people beyond those visible in the foreground.  In the centre, out of scale with the huge columns, there is what appears to be a curious quincunx-like arrangement of short pillars or steles, until you realise these are actually skittles.  It was painted as the design for a console table, which could have had actual fruit, books and musical instruments placed on it.  The Prado has another similar sketch by Flipart which also shows ruins casting long shadows.  In both paintings leaves curl round the border of the landscape - they could be part of the still life or the world beyond.

Image from the Prado site for non-commercial use

I am not sure how numerous hybrid works combining still life and landscape are, but in a recent exhibition I saw Flipart's Landscape with an architectural view hanging next to the painting below.  Here too, the eye can focus for a while on the foreground detail, yet cannot help being drawn away into the sunlit space of the landscape.  Perhaps those alluring distances offered the paintings' owners a respite from the decorative excess of their own interiors.  Flipart also did one of his still life/landscapes with a view out to sea and there are parallels in the two artists' careers. Johann Rudolf Bys (1660–1738) was Swiss but became a court painter in Prague after travels that took him to Germany, Holland and England.  Charles-Joseph Flipart (1721–1797), who was French, also travelled in Europe before becoming court painter in Spain. 

Johann Rudolf Bys, Flower Still Life with Veduta in a Cartouche, before 1713
Kunstmuseum Basel's ¡Hola Prado! exhibition - photography permitted

The flowers in the painting by Bys are reminiscent of those used by other artists at that time to create intricate illusionistic borders.  Garlands surround images of the holy family in seventeenth century paintings by the Breughels and other Flemish artists.  The art of Abraham Brueghel (1631 – c. 1690) is diverse but always full of flowers and in one example in Zagreb they frame a sunlit country scene.  There have been many artists who painted still life in the foreground of a landscape - the dead game paintings of Jan Weenix, for example - but fewer who separated the two and gave them equal prominence within the same painting.  Perhaps there is still potential in this genre - I'm thinking of what George Shaw might do: a sylvan landscape surrounded by trompe-l'œil renderings of the bottles, discarded clothes and other litter to be found in our woodlands.  But there is something fresh in the paintings of Bys and Flipart, in their fascination and delight in nature and culture, that seems to arise directly from the dreams and desires of early modern Europe.

No comments: