The Indian art lover is revisiting the joys of classical still life drawings and Renaissance-style portraitures that are easy to relate to because of their photographic realism and simplistic approach.
"Still life never went away. People appreciate its technical details and find it easy to identify with objects. We as a gallery deal only in still lives and realistic landscapes and have a collection of more than 200 still lives back in London. Our oldest still life drawing dates back to the 17th century," Glenn A. Fuller of W.H. Patterson Fine Art Dealer, a 250-year-old gallery in Britain, told this writer in New Delhi recently.
Fuller, who manages his family art house, was in the Indian capital last week with a cache of 15 contemporary still life paintings and portraits - done in the Renaissance style- to exhibit at a mega art fair in the country. The cache included Venetian waterscapes, nude studies, floral still lives, animal portraits and traditional kitchen scenes made famous by the Dutch painters of the 16th and the 17th century.
The art works were startling in their details and interplay of light and shade- and for the crowd of Indian buyers and art lovers that thronged his show space, it was walk back in history.
A canvas, Chateau Pichon Longueville - of two wine bottles, a glass decanter, a measuring cup, a chunk of cheese on a tissue paper and a bunch of purple carnations- by leading American contemporary still life artist Paul S. Brown glowed like a glossy colour photograph from the cover of a lifestyle magazine from a distance. A closer look showed a canvas base and the magical use of oil paints and brushstrokes.
Fuller sources his still life canvases from across Europe and the US, where several young contemporary artists are returning to Renaissance realism, breaking away from the sometimes unitelligible language from contemporary abstract art.
Peter Wagemans paints riots of roses, peonies, lilies and carnations in exotic vases - Ming porcelian from China, ancient Grecian urn and the the everyday glass containers. The flowers are set in lush bouquets of leaves, stems, creepers and tendrils- their bright colours contrasted by the vivid green of the foliage.
Floral still life canvases, says Fuller, are popular among Indian collectors in Britain. "Indians like flowers in vases," said Fuller, who sold a floral still life study at the summit to a Delhi-based collector Thursday.
Chennai-based Sangeeta Chopra, the secretary general of the World Crafts Council, who has a "small collection of still lives by M.F. Husain and M. Krishnan" feels still life compositions give the viewer a sense of participation.
Still life drawings found in the ancient Egyptian tombs and in the Greek vases, was used by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century as the technique for studies of fruits in water colours.
Later, the Medici rulers of Florence in Italy encouraged artists to paint citrus fruits. The technique, however, came of age in the 17th century when artists like Rembrandt and Caravaggio gave it classical status, along with a group of Dutch painters.
The tradition was kept alive by masters like Claude Monet, Chardin, Francisco Goya, Paul Gaugin and Van Gogh.
Master realist Subodh Gupta, who is known for his still lives compistions of kitchen utensils and snapshots of street life, says over 50 percent galleries across the world exhibit still lives. "Realism has always been there and will never disappear," feels Gupta.
Concurs Latvian gallerist Yvonna Veiharte, who was also in the capital with a body of Renaissance-style portraiture and still life compositions by contemporary Latvian artist Anita Arbidane.
"Most of her works are detailed self portraits. She likes Renaissance art and its decadent and detailed style of painting," Veiharte said. Arbidane, 26, shot to the limelight last year with her Renaissance style portrait of the Latvian president titled "President's Portrait With Rabbit" framed against a monastery window.
Contemporary artist Gargi Raina, a resident of Vadorara in Gujarat, who was displaced from Kashmir as a two-year-old, is also a Renaissance realist. One of her art works -- a panel of nine canvases in water wash technique and dry pastels titled "Constructing the Memory of a Room" in her childhood home in Kashmir -- uses the Renaissance still life technique to portray individual objects in the room to build a photographic chronology of her life in the Kashmir valley.
"Realism and classical touch in art are back, though with a contemporary flavour. Young artists are returning to their figure and line drawing roots," says Mumbai-based artist Vivek Sharma.
Sharma carries realism and still life a step further. His style is photorealism. "My art is inspired by photography and I try to replicate photographs on my canvas," he says.
One of his works, "The Deep", a large format canvas of US president Barack Obama with his head
against a chessboard held aloft by Indian god Hanuman, is simultaneously Renaissance and contemporary.
"Obama is as he appears in his photographs whereas the concept of the President head over heels on a chessboard- that is America- and the Hanuman are my personal idioms," Sharma explains.
Realism is good as long as artists develop their own language, says Peter Nagi, owner of one of India's most prestigious gallery, Nature Morte. "I hate works which look the same- it may not have to be realistic all the time," Nagi told this writer.