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Interview with Colnaghi’s Director on Female Still Live Masters
'FORBIDDEN FRUIT: FEMALE STILL LIFE' an exhibition devoted to female still life
Fempire 17 May 2022
Colnaghi London window display. Tablescape by The Clicc.

Founded in 1760, Colnaghi is one of the most important commercial art galleries in the world. By the late nineteenth century, the gallery had established itself in Europe and the United States as a leading dealer in Old Master paintings, prints and drawings, selling masterpieces to the greatest collectors and museums of the Gilded Age, including Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon. Colnaghi today is the only major gallery to specialize in works of art from antiquity through to the modern era, offering its clients expert advice and service, and an exciting programme of exhibitions and events.

Clara Peeters (Antwerp 1594 -?) – image courtesy of gallery

Thhis spring, COLNAGHI London presents a new exhibition ‘FORBIDDEN FRUIT: FEMALE STILL LIFE’ devoted to female still life, open from April 27 through June 24, 2022. Forbidden Fruit builds upon Colnaghi’s mission to spearhead new trends in art collecting, bringing the finest works in often overlooked categories to a new audience. This presentation includes work from the Renaissance to Baroque periods by: Giovanna Garzoni, Fede Galizia, Clara Peeters, Caterina Angela Pierozzi, Elisabetta Marchioni, Rachel Ruysch and others. The exhibition also spotlights the theme of diplomatic exchanges between nations, through the lens of female masters.

TheArtGorgeous spoke to COLNAGHI’s Global Director Candida Lodovica de Angelis Corvi ahead of the exhibition to find out more.

Josefa de Ayala Figueira or Josefa de Óbidos (1630-1684) – image courtesy of gallery

How did the concept of the ‘Forbidden Fruit: Female Still Life’ exhibition come about?
Colnaghi’s clients have always been and continue to be committed to the academic story behind a work. Adhering to the firm’s history of fostering scholarship, each painting in our Forbidden Fruit: Female Still Life exhibition, for example, is accompanied by rigorous scientific research as well as talks by experts from the Warburg at its opening on 27 April.

Rachel Ruysch (1664 – 1750) – image courtesy of the gallery

Why still life for these artists?
Fede Galizia (1578-1630) was a prodigy who first achieved recognition aged 12. The daughter of the miniaturist painter Annunzio Galizia, Fede honed her skills in her father’s workshop. Here, she was exposed to a great range of artworks and witnessed the intellectual exchanges between the north of Italy and Flanders. The attention to detail Galizia saw in paintings by Northern European artists such as Jan Brueghel, who visited Milan at the end of the 16th century, impacted her work immensely. Although historically overlooked, perhaps because she painted fewer than 20 still lifes and rarely signed them, these are among the earliest by any Italian artist, shaping the genre long before the still life painters we know today.

Still life with apples, pears, figs and melon, ca. 1625 – 1630, spotlights Galizia’s naturalistic, spatially complex and immensely detailed approach to still life. Textures are captured through precise brushwork and dramatic contrast – luminous pears, apples, figs and melon spring to life against a dark background. Galizia’s still lives are intimate scenes in which she experiments with light, miniaturist details and offers a new female sensibility. She may have come into contact with Caravaggio, when he trained in Simone Peterzano’s Milanese workshop towards the end of the 16th century, hence not coincidentally the present work recalls to mind Caravaggio’s famous Basket of Fruit (Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan), from which she derived the intense realism and structural employment of light on volumes. This work has two remarkable provenances, once belonging first to the Cardinal Monti and then to Prince Sebastián Gabriel de Borbón (1811–1875), grandson of Prince Gabriel, who was the son of Charles III. On the reverse it bears his collector’s mark – the letters SG, with a crown above.

Clara Peeters, on the other hand, was trained in a unique moment for Antwerp, during the rejuvenation of the Netherlands under the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia – eldest daughter of Philip II of Spain, who contributed to a period of financial welfare and cultural patronage. Thanks to the favourable relationship of her court in Europe, Peeters benefited from a broad distribution of her artistry abroad. Her works hence lives on as a testimony of the diffusion of culture and taste in times of political stability.

Rachel Ruysch was the first woman to join the painter’s Guild of Saint Luke in The Hague. She served as a court painter to Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm, in Düsseldorf. Most importantly in her case is the scientific background she was exposed to from a young age. Her father, Fredericus Ruysch, was a lecturer and eminent botanist who collected specimens, and was a great source of inspiration on his daughter’s work. Studying Ruysch’s oeuvre spotlights the cultural genesis of modern science in Western Europe, exactly preceded by the strong curiosity for observation and experimentation of the cultural milieu she was operating in.

Elisabetta Marchioni (active Rovigo, second half oil on canvas 109.5 x 143 cm 43 1/8 x 56 1/4 – image courtesy of the gallery

While female artists are still largely marginalised in the art world, why do you feel that there is a recent growth in interest, both in pre modern and contemporary female artists?
Forbidden Fruit: Female Still Life is a presentation of masterworks by women from a variety of different nations – Clara Peeters, Fede Galizia, Rachel Ruysch and Giovanna Garzoni – highlights the overlooked role female artists played in diplomatic relations throughout history. Giovanna Garzoni, for example, was a globe-trotter of her time who visited and united different cultures through her work in the highest courts of Europe – Naples, Florence, Rome, Turin – at the time linked by conflictual or territorially complex relationships. At a time when differences between nations can seem to grow each year, an exhibition like Female Still Life which develops and draws our attention to the role art and women play in uniting cultures feels timely and apt.

Fede Galizia, Still life with apples, pears, figs and melon, c. 1625-30 – image courtesy of the gallery

What else is planned at Colnaghi this year that you would like to share with The Art Gorgeous readers?
Connecting cultures has never been more important in the art and museum than it is today and Colnaghi’s present and future cultural program is committed to issues of diversity and inclusion. We can learn lessons from the past and see that as different nations, we are united by much more than what separates us.

Forbidden Fruit: Female Still Life is open at Colnaghi London from April 27 – June 24, 2022.

Interview by Peigi Mackillop

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