A discovery

I just made a strange discovery. Two days ago I wrote, in my post called Preparations, about Heikki Marila winning the Carnegie Art Award. Today I discovered what I suspect to be the foundation for Heikki Marila’s Kukat XIX, (2009). Just have a look at this:

Jan Davidsz de Heem, Vase of Flowers, c. 1660.

And then Marila again:

The tall white poppy, the two tulips to the right, the heavy red peony. A rose and a tulip to the left. It is a very similar composition.

This is what the National Gallery of Art (Washington) says about de Heem’s painting:

Gardening and the breeding of beautiful hybrids satisfied the Dutch interest in art and in science. Exotic flowers also indicated their far-flung explorations and their expertise in botany. In fact, a “tulip-mania” swept Holland soon after tulips were imported from Turkey in the 1550s. In 1637, Amsterdam’s commodity market in tulip bulbs crashed, causing capitalism’s first depression.

The thirty-one species of plants in this vase cannot bloom in the same season. Many of these blossoms have emblematic meanings. The upper flowers thrive in the sunshine that streams through De Heem’s studio windows which we see reflected in the crystal vase. The lower plants, farther away from the light of heaven, droop and wilt.

Near the bottom, a salamander stares hungrily at a spider, while a snail, moth, and ants crawl on the marble shelf. All these creatures symbolize night and decay. On the white poppy at the top, a caterpillar and butterfly evoke the idea of rebirth from a cocoon or tomb.

What would a good analysis of Marila’s work look like? One would of course have to discuss it in relation to its ancestor, but also in a contemporary setting – freed from the kind of symbolism so central to de Heem and his audience.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Connie says:

    Very interesting indeed. The immediate thing that popped in mind when I saw the two paintings was Duchamp’s LHOOQ, but obviously Marila’s work is not on a found object, hence different intention. I can imagine an interesting discussion about the idea of illusion in painting vs. the reaffirmation of painting by the drips of paint. or what is preciousness… or even (what is) vandalism and art…Oh what fun is it just to think about it!.

    1. Sigrun says:

      I’m really looking forward to hear what my students will say about it … I think its also a good opportunity to introduce them to theories of appropriation, e.g Duchamp’s way of working etc.

  2. aafke7 says:

    What puzzles me is the notion of growth of plants in the season. As a gardener in this region. I discovered just a few years ago that it’s quite possible to grow all those flowers at the same time by just lingering planting the bulbs. Now I use it as a time GAME of exploring some paintings. Just for fun!

    1. Sigrun says:

      hm – very interesting! a bit of personal researching …

  3. litlove says:

    Oh my goodness – that second painting makes such an impact after the neatness and controlled-ness of the first. It’s so emotional, the thing I least expect still lifes to be. Who would have thought anyone could paint an aggressive, destructive, weeping flower picture? I’d love to know what your students thought about it.

    1. Sigrun says:

      It’s strange isn’t it, how they play together.
      This was a very nice way to discuss art history with the young ‘becoming artists’. They all got very talkative. I think seeing both versions made the history come alive in a new way.
      First year students worried a lot about tho copy-part of it, believing art should be genuine and original, and not some kind of imitations. For the second year this was no problem at all. They have already learnt the lesson: it’s all about being the best thief 🙂

  4. Evelien says:

    I think it is not thieving at all. Artists and especially in the old days have copied each others works endlessly. What is so fascinating about Marilla’s version of the still lives is that it isn’t a copy at all. The animals and insects have been replaced by the dripping paint stripes and the dark shadows in the background give probably the same feeling of something lurking in the dark and of death and decay. At the same time there is no need any more to paint flowers realistic like van de Heem, if you want you can photoshop every flower you’d fancy into a vase (if you do it right, It will take you probably just as long as it took him to paint them). The work by Marilla touches you on a level that would have never been understood or felt by a person living in van de Heem’s time. Like we can’t interpret every symbol he uses in his painting, but it must have been very obvious then.
    They both depict the cruelty and beauty of life and death and the skill of the painter in their own way.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Hi Evelien!
      Just the way my second year students see it 🙂

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