post

Still life with Parrot, Oranges and a Chinese Love Story

The Western Chamber

This February I wanted some romantic imagery. This 18th century bowl with its imagery of lovers in a moonlit garden was just what I was looking for. You see a poor scholar, beckoning the aristocratic beauty he has fallen in love with, who is just behind a high wall with her maid. This story, “[Romance of] The Western Chamber,” was originally written as a tragedy, but was later altered to have a happy ending. The happy version seems to dominate and there’s no hint of tragedy in the synopsis written by the Beijing Tourism Bureau. 

These little oranges are currently in season, and I loved the eye catching combination of the contrasting orange and blue. As I dreamed up this painting, I always imagined it with a parrot, never any other bird. I’ve  had a fondness for parrots ever since my dad came back from Florida with a parrot named Charlie, when I was around 8 years old. I don’t know how my mom felt about it, but that was my dad. (My sister could tell you stories about bringing a baby cow home in the back of our station wagon.) Scroll down for a picture of little Rebecca petting Charlie. 

Part of the fun of making still life paintings is to research historical symbolism and dream up my own hidden stories. Many objects have several meanings so the story can differ depending on who’s doing the dreaming. In this case, an uncaged bird symbolizes sexual freedom, and parrots specifically represent nobility, richness and self confidence. Oranges can represent abundance, longevity and beauty. 

Everything was becoming a bit too sweet and easy for the lovers, so I added a fly to bring them back down to reality. I appreciate the description by Steven Connor in his article The Painter and the Fly”, describing flies in art as the “embodiments of accident, of what just happens to happen”. And if you want to see how symbolism can be scrutinized by scholars, take a look his article which discusses the fly in art over the course of 500 years.

BOWL

Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (not currently on view)
Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722)
Porcelain with underglaze-blue decoration, 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm), height 8 1/4 in. (21 cm), diameter, Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 70.42
Photo: Paul Macapia

“The fourteenth-century drama The West Chamber tells of a poor scholar, Zhang Sheng, seen here holding a fan, who falls passionately in love with Oriole, an aristocratic beauty. In this night scene, from behind a high wall and accompanied by her clever maid, Crimson, Oriole smiles at scholar Zhang, her hands raised in delight. Shining above them are constellations thought to determine the lovers’ fate. The scene appears to represent the two lovers by moonlight in the secrecy of the monastery garden.” Mimi Gardner Gates, “Porcelain Stories,” p. 118

The perfecting of the underglaze-blue technique made possible richer gradations of the blue color, seen particularly on wares from around the mid-seventeenth to the eighteenth century, and expanded the repertoire of design. Narrative scenes taken from lyrics, plays, and popular novels (like The West Chamber depicted on the bowl) became fashionable around this time, catering to the interests of the rising merchant class and the scholar gentry alike. These interpretive blue paintings told intimate stories to the viewer, and enriched the surface of the blue-and-white porcelain. 

How to Purchase

Subscribe to my newsletter to get an email when each Monthly Miniature is finished and the chance to purchase the latest painting. I usually announce when the newest painting will be released for sale on Instagram and Facebook within 24 hours before sending the newsletter.

post

Waffles! Miniature Still Life painting

Breakfast takes center stage in November’s miniature still life painting featuring waffles, apples, small floral arrangement and red dragonfly. I love breakfast. I believe starting every day with a nice leisurely breakfast is absolute perfection. I’ve spoiled my three year old son to believe the same. When asked what he wants for breakfast his reply is usually, “scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon”. And that’s usually what he gets. Special occasions substitutes the pancakes for waffles.

Dutch still life paintings of breakfast are nothing like the photos of food you see online. Photos of food never seem that appealing to me, but the paintings are delicious. Antoine Vollon’s painting of “Mound of Butter” from the 1800’s was on view at the Seattle Art Museum a few years and it was a feast for the eyes. If they could make a small mountain of butter look delicious, you have to see paintings of eggs and waffles.

Waffles, apples and dragonfly still life painting detail
Waffles, apples and dragonfly Miniature still life paintingby Rebecca Luncan

Finding My Models: Waffles, Blooms and Insects

I knew I wanted the waffles to sit on one of the Dutch silver plates used in so many of my favorite paintings and my own waffle iron is very special to me. It’s an antique cast iron waffle maker from the 1800’s that my sister gave to my years ago, but my circular waffles just weren’t working. It had to happen, but it felt so wrong to buy rectangular frozen waffles to pose for the paintings when I love my own waffle maker so much. But for art, we suffer. I’m kidding, the waffles were delicious. 🙂 

I was having a hard time finding flowers in bloom in November and was about to give up. I take ballet classes from The Ballet Studio in the University district in Seattle and I looked out the window while at the barre to see a flower box in full bloom. Kristen, my teacher gave me a pair of scissors after class and let me bring home some of her last remaining blooms for the painting. I’m amazed I found roses blooming in November, but Seattle is a pretty special place.

The red dragonfly is a frequent visitor to my backyard. I live near several likes north of Seattle in Lynnwood. One summer my husband wore red swim trunks while going for a swim and he was surrounded by dozens of them as he floated.

Hope you enjoy the painting and hope you have a happy holiday season!

Go to my Monthly Miniatures page to see the whole series. Sign up to my monthly newsletter for upstate and for the chance to purchase paintings before they’re public on the site.

post

Swallowtail Butterfly over Japanese Plums

Still life paintings, both universal and highly individualized

For my Into the Country monthly miniature series from a few years ago, I included one still life with plums and bees (pictured below) in the mix of portraits of animals. This was the first still life painting I’d done since art school, and it helped direct the focus for this years series, “In Season”. This is my eighth painting of this years still life series. I find the still life to be one of the most universally accessible genres of painting. I was amazed to find that still life paintings are also quite personal. Each item I place in my composition is carefully chosen and has personal meaning to me and I hope to my viewers as well.

From the Garden

My Japanese plum tree is the star of my little quarter-acre garden. Almost every August, I get around 2,000 plums from my one tree. Over the years my incredibly juicy plums have been eaten as is (watch out for juice going everywhere!), been made into jam, wine, sweet bread, liqueur, filled up my freezer for winter enjoyment and now they’re models for paintings.

The yellow of the plums make them the perfect companions to the equally golden and plentiful swallowtail butterfly. Swallowtails are found all over the world, and the Western Tiger Swallowtail I’ve featured in my painting makes its dazzling appearance in the Seattle area. And swallowtail butterflies are always fluttering around the garden. One friend said he’s never visited my garden without seeing at least one. This painting feels like distilling some of the beauty and magic of my garden.

Honey Bee and Japanese plum still life, oil paitning on copper by Rebecca Luncan
Into the Country- Honey Bees, oil on copper, 4″ x 4″