Still Life with Sardines and Sea-Urchins


Adolphe Monticelli ( French, 1824 - 1886 )

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General Description

No artist from the south of France had a more profound effect on the art of Vincent van Gogh than did Adolphe Monticelli. Van Gogh's correspondence is filled with admiring references to the great painter of Marseilles, whose wildly colorful and painterly works of art the young Dutchman used as an exemplar of "southern" painting. Van Gogh's admiration of Monticelli's work was shared by many late 19th - and early 20th - century collectors, and because the demand exceeded the supply, a good many works attributed to Monticelli in collections throughout the world are known forgeries. Surely not a forgery, the Reves panel is one of only seventeen known still-life paintings by the prolific artist. It was among twenty-six major paintings by Monticelli from the famous collection of the Marseilles businessman François Honnorat. Honnorat loaned it to many early exhibitions, and it appeared in the most important Monticelli exhibition, which was held in 1908 at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. When looking at this sensuous still life, one can see just why van Gogh respected Monticelli. Rather than choose polite or refined forms like those preferred by most still-life painters, Monticelli went to the Marseilles fish market and purchased fresh sardines and a basket of spiny sea urchins. He arranged these on a white tablecloth with a squat ceramic pitcher and other kitchen objects. He then loaded up his palette with paint, took up a variety of large brushes, and described the slimy still life with paint so succulent and juicy that it still looks wet more than a century later. Although Monticellis' aesthetic was rooted in the practice of mid-century painters, who saw color as emerging from a deep brown "ébauche" (under-painting), his sheer love of paint itself and his variable and expressionist brushstrokes had few proponents in his own generation. Indeed, it took an artist with van Gogh's artistic sensibilities to appreciate Monticelli. As if in homage to the master from Marseilles, van Gogh painted several still lifes with sardines while he stayed in Arles a little less than two years after Monticelli's death in 1886. "Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection," page 59