I’ve mentioned before on this blog how much I love the Victorian ideal of a yard full of fruit and flowers – all together. They didn’t relegate their fruit trees to the backyard – they’d plant an orange tree right in the front yard, next to the roses. And grapevines would twist up and over the front porch, right next to a wisteria covered in blossoms. Fruits and flowers, in the yard, and in their art…
But the Victorians weren’t the first to love still life art consisting of fruit bowls and flowers. And in fact, during the Baroque period, a kind of art emerged that I personally find fascinating – called Vanitas, they were still lifes with rotting fruit and faded dying flowers, and sometimes the artists even included insects in their paintings.
Why would anyone want a painting of rotting fruit? Or dying flowers? Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the genre flourished, the religious message was that life is fleeting, and that death is inevitable, so you better get with it and live right! Rotting fruit and flowers symbolized how quickly life and time passes – and if life is brief, then you better get good with God now, rather than later, because it might be too late if you wait.
I remember seeing a huge painting of a dinner table in a museum in Paris in 2004. I had no idea what it meant when I saw it, but I was transfixed by the fact that the subject matter – imperfect fruit and flowers – was painted so perfectly, and so beautifully. It was this huge gorgeous painting, beautifully done, of wilting flowers and food that looked way past it’s prime. Gorgeous, but oddly disturbing. I stood in front of it far too long, and kind of fell in love with the strange genre of Vanitas art. But I never thought about creating any Vanitas art of my own.
But this summer, as I’ve watched the plants in my yard wilt and wither and suffer from the heat, and as I see some plants start to die back, as we head toward Fall, I’ve sort of enjoyed seeing overblown roses fade, and my lone Hollyhock come to the end of it’s blooming life. Everything in the yard is pulling back, and withering, and it’s not unattractive – it’s just different than the lushness of Spring. Everyone is drawn to the first perfect flower in Spring – but can just anyone also appreciate the last rose of the summer?
So that’s my first personal experiment with the Vanitas genre – not exactly the most pure of attempts, but definitely inspired by the ideals of the movement! Art, even the oldest genres doesn’t have to be stuffy – it can be fun!
And I want to make one quick point – art doesn’t have to be time consuming either, or require a lot of thought or preparation. All of these were shot very quickly just after sunset, on two consecutive evenings. I started at 6:38PM yesterday and finished up at 6:47PM – so just nine minutes the first night. And then I started at 6:22PM tonight, and shot my last frame at 6:35PM – so 13 minutes tonight. And the processing of the images took about 50 minutes total. Writing this post was probably the most time consuming part of the whole process!
As for the technical details, the first night I shot everything with a 85MM lens and the second night I used a 50MM lens exclusively – and everything both nights was shot at f/1.8 or 2.0, except for the horizontal image of the pink roses, and the very last shot of the fushia flowering tree branch, which were both shot at f/3.5.