With autumn thoroughly upon us and with further adjustments to this exceptional and demanding year, being creative with limitations, is something to be embraced. In spring the constrictions favoured the simple sketch, now in our damp wet autumn the rich colours inspire the thick sweep of oil paint and hog brush.
In painting, the still life played a prominent part in the lives of artists struggling on limited means. Fruit and still forms are ready to hand, but for many years still lives didn’t appeal to me, I thought they lacked the energy of the larger vista. But now, they provide a rich, personal, small scale, convenient means of expression.
Many of the great names used fruit as a their ‘bread and butter’ subject matter, not just in finished oils but in simple pencil lines. Renoir explored a luscious feminine style, as much as Cezanne. If you start to explore the larger collections around the UK or on online, the 17th and 18th century Dutch artists painted European fruit with the most sensual and photographic velvety brilliance. There’s nothing like the peaches painted with every furry skin detailed, whether it’s Desportes in the Wallace Collection peaches or in Highclere Castle by Van Weenix; a level which few, if any modern painters wish, or are able to match. Another point worth considering is that even fruit goes ‘off’, or shrivels up if left too long, the artist must get on with it or have a good supply of fresh fruit!
Perhaps due to my big clearance of hedging behind the Bramley apple tree, it has been an unusually good year for my apples. The wasps and birds did not do any great damage so with apple drop showing a wack or bruise on hitting the ground, I had rather more produce than I needed.
As America is much in our thoughts at present it reminds me of my American grandmother’s Mississippi childhood and Boston born early life. The Kentucky ‘Cabbage Patch circle’ cookbook features the recipe of ‘Apple Pie No. 1’; this tart was a big favourite cooked by my late mother for dinner parties. Sharp ‘Bramleys’ would do: original recipe 1952 by Duncan Hines.
My version: melt or whisk in a saucepan: 1 cup of sugar, 2 tbs flour, half a nutmeg, grated, half a cup of orange juice, 3 tbsp of golden syrup and third of a cup of butter. Melt into a gooey sauce. Meanwhile make a shortcrust pastry base with the sharp apples arranged in the usual circle, pour the sauce over, then finish with a lattice top. Bake high for 15 mins, then low for 40 mins. Heaven with a large dollop of cream. If you forget to turn the oven down you will have a devil of a job cleaning the oven!
Don’t be tempted to try the recipe with pears or bananas as I once did. The result was vastly too sweet, so the sharp apples provide a much needed balance of flavours.
Apart from apples, which occupied much of my initial study, pears and other fruit shapes lent variety and freshness to any composition. So – back to the drawing board, Cezanne did some beautifully simple work of drawing and wash of pears, anyone can aspire to something along those lines and with time and practise one’s style becomes ever more relaxed and brushy.
I couldn’t help but notice that French pears seem to be remarkably large and well fed compared to British produce available! Sargent hardly touched any still life, except some marvellous poppies or mountainous rocks if they really count! Therefore other artists must be researched for novel inspiration. Figs make an easier subject, quinces perhaps but they are very yellow, better to focus on a broader colour range. Fruit painting is not quite a straightforward as one might think. One needs enough to make it interesting, pay attention to the lighting and try larger scale when standing, wth an upright board, this helps the relaxed broad approach. Fruit is worth the effort, but don’t underestimate the challenge!