Are the works of Sharon Core paintings or photographs? One thing is certain, they are beautiful, and they are photographs. To write about this new book of her photographs, called Early American, one must understand the work of American artist Raphaelle Peale.
To create her realistic photographs, Sharon Core looked to American still-life painter Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825) for inspiration. Core created these old-master styled photos with fruit she grew, and with period porcelain and table settings she has collected to duplicate the works of Peale. American painter Raphaelle Peale was the son of well-known artist, Charles Wilson Peale. The elder Peale is best known for his painting, The Artist in His Museum.
The Artist in His Museum
The younger Peale’s work was quite different from his father’s and his contemporaries. Raphaelle was drawn to the quietness of the still life, he creates almost an austere or melancholy atmosphere within his paintings. Peale avoided any suggestion of opulence as often seen in 17th century Dutch still life.
By the age of twenty-one, Raphaelle Peale was recognized as America’s first and leading still life painter and between 1812 and 1825 he painted over one hundred of them. Most of Peale's paintings are small in scale. He left a legacy of vibrant jewel like still lifes depicting objects such as fruit, vegetables, and meat.
Peale’s paintings differ from his contemporaries with the strange atmosphere he has created within them. His still lifes take on a strange quality, they seem to take on the artist’s own body. American art scholar, Alexander Nemerov has written extensively on the younger Peale and he seems to feel the still life objects are imitations of Peale’s own body. Nemerov writes “Raphaelle’s paintings simulate the artist’s own physical existence projected into the objects of perception.”
Core’s photographs depict the younger Peale’s work down to the last detail. It took her many long hours to track down the seeds necessary to grow the heirloom species depicted in Peale’s work. She had to hunt down through flea markets and Ebay the Chinese porcelain and tableware prevalent in his canvases. Core has made note of the strange physical characteristics in Peale’s work that scholar Nemerov has noted. Peale placed scars and bruising on his objects almost to make them extensions of his own body so Core has made sure we see slight traces of life in these in inanimate objects, such as bruises, scars, and the rotting flesh of the food. Some fruit seem to caress another piece through a “finger” as seen in Lemons, (plate 18 in the book). In the photograph Apples in a Porcelain Basket (plate 6) we can almost see an “eye” depicted as a rotting area on one of the apples. Brian Sholis who wrote the essay for the book, Early American, says, “ they display the physical presence and variety of human bodies.”
Core has paid close attention to the lighting Peale used and how he placed his objects. From Peale’s paintings to Core’s photographs the diffused lighting source is not known and the backdrops seem to disappear. Compositionally Core has placed the objects exactly life Peale’s, objects are centered and tend to be arranged in pyramids. Peale placed his objects very close to the viewer so one could see all of their detail and Core has followed this compositional detail as well.
As much as Core seems to depict Peale’s work down to the last detail such as securing the exact same piece of porcelain Peals used she has used his work as mimesis for her work. Peale used flat canvas and paint to give dimensionality to his work while Core uses her camera to make the dimensional objects in front of her to look like flat yet highly detailed reproductions of Peale’s work.
PAINTERLY STRUGGLE: CONFLICT AND RESOLUTION WITHIN RAPHAELLE
PEALE’S STILL LIFE PAINTINGS by Jason Frederick
The American Pioneer of Still Life by Edward J. Sozanski
Art Show: Sharon Core by Vicky Lowry