Still Life with Fruit and Champagne
May 9, 2008
In my house there's the five-second rule: if some edible falls on the floor and you snatch it back in the alloted amount of time, it's still good enough to eat. Germs only begin to appear after the sixth second. Today, I stood in front of Helen Searle's Still Life with Fruit and Champagne and thought, this spread looks pretty good for being nearly 140 years old. Searle, born in Burlington, Vermont in 1830, painted this still life when she was thirty-six.
In the painting there are grapes, plums, and a peach on a white marble table, and in the middle a glass of champagne. There's also a long branch that has clearly been cut (as opposed to torn) but its leaves have seen better days. In fact, one leaf seems to have been munched on by an insect. One of the yellow plums has a split skin, and there's a broken shell from a nut (possibly a hazel nut?). Most importantly, there's a bee. I wonder who invited him (or her) to the party?
I think the painter was trying to illustrate a bountiful life, as well as the decay that begins to seep in. We all die a little each day: the small changes hardly even register. But then there's the glass of champagne just waiting to be lifted to your lips. Those bubbles won't last forever. I don't know the quaffer's equivalent of the phrase carpe diem. I do know that this painting makes me think about beauty and time, and the life that is spread out before us. The question that comes to mind is: will you reach for the glass and take a sip, or not?
I like this post. Just a thought where there are fruits there got to be a bee... if anything i think the bee completes the painting. Thanks for the post.
Posted by: Debanjan Ghosh | May 10, 2008
I think you're right about the bee--truly the unsung hero of the still life. Thanks for writing!
Posted by: Howard | May 12, 2008
Was the bee her version of the fly that's found in some (eighteenth-century?) still lifes? I like the bee too -- it, and everything else in this painting shouts sweetness. We and the bee are instinctively attracted.
Posted by: halfoff | May 12, 2008
I loved the post. It is amazing to me how the way art is viewed can changed based on someone else's opinion. As I look at the painting, it makes me feel peaceful and relaxed. It makes me think of a time of abundance due to the champagne, amount of fruit, and the way it is displayed. I think of prosperity. As I read the post I saw it in a somewhat different light. The fly could represent neglect. The leaf could represent a time of deterioration. After I read the post I began to see the untouched state of the various items, like the champagne and began to think maybe this painting was intended to represent something entirely different than my initial analysis. I guess that is the beauty of art. I can view a piece and am able to get one thing out of it and another person something completely different.
Posted by: Rachel Mercer | May 15, 2008
I also think this is a beautiful image: meditative in the spirit of Dutch Still Life paintings where the symbolism illustrates the transience of life, a reminder of ones own mortality as the fruits decay and the busy bee pauses for just a moment. What is interesting to me is not the bee- she is just the starting point for the transcendent journey we will all take some day. In this journey, the eye moves to the right of the bee and stops inside the open ragged shell of the upturned hazelnut. Then, leaving that broken cup, it travels up the goblet and pauses at the white window reflected in the ball of the stem, and from there moves to the golden reflection in the champagne itself. Here, perhaps in memory of the convivial pleasures of life, the eye rests before its final move into the window touching the lip of the glass. And from there it leaps, as though from a springboard, into the spiritual world. Through the window your soul departs! Not only in the trinity of the three windows and the fact that the golden window is almost exactly in the center of the picture, the painting satisfies by the gentle curve in the leaf above which protects that final moment, just for a second, before letting go. I find the contemplation of this subtle painting very consoling.
Posted by: Robyn Johnson-Ross | May 21, 2008
One of the reasons I like writing for Eye Level is that each person sees art a little bit differently than the next. In a way, I think that's what it's all about. This still life has given me a lot to think about, as have the comments. Who would have thought one little bee could create so much buzz?
Posted by: Howard | May 21, 2008
My first impression of the piece was "How Beautiful!" I didn't even see the bee! Does that mean I'm an optimist? After reading your post, and imagining being there, I was thinking I would just shew away the bee and dig in! BTW I was thinking more like chestnut instead of hazelnut?
Posted by: Jackie | Jun 5, 2008
In this painting I would point out to my students that life is made up of all types of people, creatures, and circumstances. In the painting the artist combines the different types of fruit, some bruised and some fresh; the branch that is old and that has been gnawed on; and the refreshing liquid that has just been poured and looks renewed. In life you will find yourselves in groups of personalities that are similar to this work. What would you be and who in your life would portray the other parts of the work?
Posted by: Michele Lewis | Jun 5, 2008
When viewing this image, my first thought was how relaxing. It is a beautiful piece of art. It can be interpreted in various ways. My first interpretation was that it symbolized peace and prosperity. Then I started to see the slight downfalls. It is a great representation of how the individual's mind work. Life can be as peaceful as you allow it regardless of what obstacles you face. Throughout everyone's life span, changes are constant but the way you accept it depends on the individual.
Posted by: Carnetta | Jun 5, 2008
Jackie, yes, the idea is to dig in. That darn bee! What will we do with him or her? Of course without all the pollinating wonders of the bee there'd be no fruit, and still lifes would not be half as delicious. I've decided to welcome the bee with (mostly) open arms! Thanks for writing. (Will also do a little research on hazelnut v. chestnut).
Posted by: Howard | Jun 5, 2008
Thanks Carnetta for your poetic response. It's amazing that a painting done in 1869 reveals the same universal ideas and truths we find ourselves grappling with today. Here's to the still life! Long may it live!
Posted by: Howard | Jun 5, 2008
What a beautiful piece of art. I was truly fascinated by it. The champagne caught my attention first. It's clarity made it seem so real. You can almost taste it. It is so realistic. The fruit looks just as real as does the stem with its blunt cut. The grapes were also eye catching. I have to admit I did not see the bee/fly until I read the other comments. I went back to the painting and there it was right in front of me. A beautiful piece of art.
Posted by: jgunn | Jun 6, 2008
What caught my attention to this at first was not the artwork but the mention of the "five-second rule." I just had a student do a science fair project on that very topic. After looking at the painting, though, I was drawn to the bee also. More bee buzz... I guess my interpretation is that the bee is surveying what has been accomplished as a result of its work. The bee is so small and easy to overlook in the bigger picture. I think the work of a teacher is similar to that of the bee because much of what we do produces vast results which may only be seen long after we are out of the picture.
Posted by: Jennifer Clark | Jun 6, 2008
I agree with Jennifer. The idea of the 5 second rule caught my attention as well, except I sometimes use a 10 second rule (smile).
The painting to me represents enjoying life. The wine sitting there symbolizes enjoyment. We have the choice to pick the wine up and sip or leave it there to waste. Also, the bee represents potential danger. There are always potential dangers or things that may happen to us in life. I would go for the wine before the bubbles fizzle out! Enjoy life while you got the chance!
Posted by: Nykela Jackson | Jun 6, 2008
As I view this painting I notice the differences in the fruit. Some look fresh and other pieces such as the peach look damaged or overripe. The branch has leaves that are torn and faded, but some of the fruit looks very fresh and the water is fresh.
I would hope to convey to my students that all the elements of this painting come together to form a beautiful sight. Each piece has something unique to add to the composition. I would tie this to groups of people and how we all bring valuable insight to a situation whether we are old, young bruised or beautiful.
Posted by: Michele Lewis | Jun 6, 2008
This piece of art creates a feeling of thanksgiving. Giving thanks for the celebrations, ups and downs, new and old, and even the "pesky" moments in life.
Posted by: Denise Touchstone | Jun 12, 2008
I love your 5 second rule, made me chuckle as it reminded me that I have said this to my children a few times and can't remember where I heard it before. I'm a great art and champagne lover so thanks for bringing this wonderful piece to my attention.
Posted by: Nigel@tescowinesonline | Aug 16, 2010
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