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The bounty of the sea celebrated in still life paintings

by | May 18, 2021 | Maritime Art, Culture and History

The French call a still life ‘nature morte’ — literally meaning ‘dead nature’. The term seems spot on. The British art institution Tate describes still life as “one of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead.” However, the word ‘dead’ hardly comes to mind when one comes face to face with a masterful still life.

The following paintings depicting fish and other seafood are fine examples. They celebrate the bounty of the sea and the infinite richness of nature. But more than a feast for the eyes, these still lifes, hopefully, will remind the reader of the oft-oppressed fishermen who help feed humanity.

Rich are the sea-gods: –who gives gifts but they?

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, from ‘Seashore’

Still Life with Crabs, Jug from Westerwald and Rummer, c. 1700
Gotthardt von Wedig (German, 1583–1641)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Fish (Still Life), 1864
Édouard Manet (French, 1832 – 1883)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Oysters, 1899
Pedro Alexandrino Borges (Brazilian, 1856–1942)
Courtesy of the Google Art Project (photo by Isabella Matheus)

Red Mullets, c. 1870
Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926)
Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums—the Fogg Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, and Arthur M. Sackler Museum

Haddock, 1886
Emil Carlsen (American, 1853-1932)
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Still Life with Herrings, c. 1735
Jean-Siméon Chardin (French, 1699-1779)
Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Still life with fish, c. 1630 – c. 1659
Pieter de Putter (Dutch, c. 1600 – 1659)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Still life with mussels and shrimps, 1886
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A still life with carp in a ceramic colander, oysters, crayfish, roach and a cat on the ledge beneath, date unknown
Clara Peeters (Flemish, 1594–?; active 1607–1621)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

~ Barista Uno

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