"Someone arranged them in 1600.
Someone found the rare lemon and paid
a lot and neighbored it next
to the plain pear, the plain
plain apple of the lost garden, the glass
of wine, set down mid-sip -
don't drink it, someone said, it's for
the painting. "
- excerpt from "Still Life" from Grace, Fallen From by Marianne Boruch, Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press: 2008
When I first saw Leon Bonvin's Still Life with Glass and Jug on a Table I immediately thought of Jean-Baptiste Chardin's Glass of Water and Coffee Pot (1760). There is character in the mottled surface of the jug and radiance in the crystal clarity of the glass. There is a basic rule of composition that a long unbroken line parallel to the bottom of the picture creates a dead zone but his is ameliorated by the vertical creases in the table cloth.
There is evidence that Bonvin did know about the Parisian art world. As the Louvre's collection swelled with Napoleon's plunder of other countries, public interest in art grew. The idea that art belonged to the people took hold and working people visited the museum that had been a royal fortress. Chardin's work was being rediscovered in 1850s and 1860s when Bonvin was painting, and, like Chardin, Bonvin chose his objects for their intrinsic interest and not for symbolic reasons. The ultimate precedent for this type of still life were seventeenth century Dutch painting.
Philippe Burty wrote that Bonvin, who had to make time for painting at night, often drew using "a lamp enclosed in a box with a small opening as a light source, a practice that sometimes imparted a slightly acid color to the greens."
The makings for a salad, just picked from the garden, arrayed on the inn's kitchen table are a marvel of observation. His rendering of the intricate mass of celery roots and the medley of greens, yellow, and white of the leaves seems to draw the light. Around this central light-soaked image are onions, herbs, and pepper suggesting warmth - they are earth-scented.
One way to create reflections and highlights (particularly in oils) to go over the painted surface a second time with the same colors as Bonvin did here. The variety of materials used to complete this painting
Philippe Burty, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 75, January 1886, 37-51.
1. Leon Bonvin - Still Life with Glass and Jug on a Table, watercolor and pen & ink, no date given, Louvre Museum, Paris.
2. Leon Bonvin - Still Life with Wine, Water, and Fruits, 1864
3. Leon Bonvin - Still Life on Kitchen Table with Celery, Parsley, a Bowl, and Two Cruets, 1865, watercolor and brush with graphite under-drawing and iron gal ink and gum varnish on heavily textured moderately thick cream wove paper, Walters museum, Baltimore