Thursday, September 08, 2011

Truth and Fiction: Clara Peeters

Osais Bert was waiting outside the door with the cloak over his arm, pacing back and forth and ruining her concentration.  She sighed, reaching for her loupe and glass. When would he cease his hounding? Hunching over the canvas she used her finest brush to finish her own reflected image in the silver candle stick.  The idiot Osais could try 1000 times and never reach the perfection she could achieve.  In the atelier, when a detail was necessary Clara was summoned. The first and only woman to ever work here her steady hand and perfect eye could capture the smallest, finest details. And the master reaped the benefits in prized commissions and higher fees. He needed more money.  After all it was 1607 and inflation was rampant since the Burghers had money to lend and the Church no longer counted usury a sin.

More frequently now the studio was accepting private commissions.  Gone were the days of painting only for Rome, recreating ponderous Biblical scenes to hang in obscurity in dark churches, monasteries and clerical residences.

When Clara was twelve she began painting insects. Her lady bugs were marvels under the glass - she captured every hair, every detail. Her reputation and genius quickly grew. Clara's flies were unequaled - layers and layers of paint were built up with her fine sable brushes; textures and light grew with impasto until the viewer was mesmerized.  Later she applied the same technique to painting other insects, grasshoppers, crickets and spiders; then small objects: mirrors, vases, thimbles. Now three years later, Clara - a woman - barely more than a child, was acknowledged not by all, but by a growing number as a skilled studio painter. The cloaking ritual, sneaking her into the studio in the day and out at night was still necessary. Osais felt the need to hide her from plain view to protect her honor although more and more often commissioners requested a painting by "the girl".
And now at last she was painting a whole canvas in the new still life style, the style she was developing. The burghers, trying to achieve immortality desired records of their possessions  - a way to live on beyond the grave. Newly wealthy, they loved paintings of dark rooms packed with their treasures from top to bottom.  But this one was a happier canvas. Stepping back she assessed the almost completed current work. Commissioned for the wedding of a Burgher's daughter, she had carefully chosen the most iconic objects to work on the canvas in her lovely composition, which radiated lasting beauty and was neither overly religious nor profane.

As the painting would be the prized possession of the young couple and their most important wedding gift, she was careful to include the pieces the couple loved along with  symbolic food and objects associated with love and marriage. A long twig of rosemary was hung with tiny ornaments, perfectly painted. Rosemary with its long lasting strong scent represented the persistence of young love. The beautiful tiny ornaments, exquisitely painted gave Clara the opportunity to exhibit her great skill.  She liked to include a candle light for balancing the glow on the canvas and she was pleased with the soft light on her scene. Just as life and love progress, candles represented the flare of passion, followed by radiation of a constant light, flickering occasionally and then finally simply dying   Two large wedding pastries rested on the marital plate and the "P" was the initial of the new couple but she painted it with extra joy as it was her own last initial. The two glasses represented the bride and groom. Their wedding ring at the edge of the plate added whimsy to the composition and balanced the magnificently painted fly creeping across the tablecloth in the background, the unsuspecting insect being in imminent danger of discovery, swatting and extinction; it represented and reminded the viewer of the the brief time we have on earth.

She wiped away a bead of sweat as she worked her own tiny reflection into the candle stick. Clara enjoyed painting this quirky signature, known only to her and the only way she could get credit for her work. Soon after this trademark was discovered by a discerning eye,  the burghers began to request that she include it in all her paintings for authenticity.

She turned back to the canvas to draw more tiny lines which the waning studio light revealed were wanting. After a few moments, her eyes raised and she met the burning, impatient glance of Osais. Her day was over. Clara reluctantly stood up from her chair.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this pleasent story about Clara Peeters. She was really a pioneer in still-life painting.