[Pinks and Daisies or Pinks and Dahlias,1912]
Sometimes it's really good to be jolted out of your cultural comfort zone and be forced to reconsider established tastes and accepted cultural wisdoms. Often, it only takes a trip to a new town or city in the UK to make me look in the direction of London with newly critical eyes (all these people and places that really don't need or care about London and London's whims and fancies!).
[Flowers and Strawberries, 1920]
But there is no doubting just how culturally refreshing a trip to a different country can be. It makes it possible to see that all the fuss and snobbery about certain writers, artists, schools, universities, restaurants are just constructs. Because when you go somewhere new, these signifiers and labels count for very little and that, I think, puts things nicely and healthily into perspective.
[Still life with/in Chinese Painting, 1925]]
In the Kunstmuseum in Bern I saw a fantastic exhibition which completely changed my perception and understanding of Swiss art, and made me think about how we tend to over-revere certain favourite, favoured artists for their originality and style, when in fact they just happen to be the ones of whom we have heard (over and over ad nauseam, sometimes).
There were two artists who stood out, one of whom was Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) who took French nationality in 1900, but is still claimed as a Swiss artist. He painted landscapes, interiors, portraits and apparently terrible nudes, but it is his still lifes that I like best because of his choices of flowers and objects, and the paintings' textures, clarity and simplicity.
[Marigolds and Tangerines, 1924]
My first thoughts were that they reminded me of paintings by Duncan Grant, William Nicholson, and the Scottish Colourists (especially Peploe and Cadell), but then I realised that I was comparing him to what I already know and deciding if he is better or worse, when in fact I should have been taking his work on its own merits.
[Parrot Tulips, 1920]
And there are plenty. I know the art critics would say that he did all his best work long before he sat down to paint flowers over and over again (they came late in his career), but on a purely basic level of 'do I or don't I really like this?', his simple, colourful, direct, precise still lifes delight me every time.
[Red Peppers, 1913]
As does his repeated use of red, the way he combines pink and yellow (and red), the way he favours nasturtiums,
[Still life with blue plate, 1922]
his fabulous ways with glossy fruits and vegetables, his tulips (of course), and his lovely tablecloths, books, cups and jugs which make these such deeply interesting domestic arrangements, and valuable lessons in keeping an open mind about the canon.
[All paintings by Félix Vallotton]