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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. 

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New Series! Flights of Fancy

Duel Over Porcelain

I’m excited to share my first 2020 Monthly Miniature and announce the new “Flight of Fancy” series. I hadn’t done a still life painting for more than 15 years until last year’s series, so studying the Dutch masters for insight into the genre was crucial to that project’s success. This year I will continue in the spirit of Dutch still life and featuring birds together with items from the Seattle Art Museum collection, with which I’ve worked for the last 13 years. It’s too early for me to understand how the two relate to each other over a series of twelve, but that is the fun of the monthly miniature, to see where the journey takes me.

Inspiration From SAM

The first featured Seattle Art Museum object is a Square Serving Dish. It’s one of my favorite pieces in the collection, and I feel it’s the perfect piece to open the New Year and the new body of work. The piece gives me contrasting feelings of chaos and grace, yet feels so perfectly balanced. I have installed this piece numerous times, including twice in Japan. Most recently, I helped install it at the Asian Art Museum, scheduled to reopen February 8th after a recent renovation and expansion.

Pacific Northwest Gardens and Birds

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you are likely familiar with the Anna’s Hummingbird. I used to have 6 hummingbird feeders all around my house, and at any time of day I could see an Anna’s feeding from some window or another. Once feeders are up in winter, though, Hummingbirds become dependent on the feeders for the season; after one very cold winter of continually defrosting a feeder for several weeks, I have given up the practice. Instead, I have filled the garden with plants that will feed them through the winter, including an Oregon grape outside my bedroom. I love waking and going to the window to watch these territorial birds feed from the yellow blossoms. My Oregon grape has become huge over the years, but that doesn’t mean anyone is willing to share.

Along with a sprig of Oregon grape in this month’s painting are Yuzu lemons my friend Hiromi let me pick from her tree in Seattle. (I also used these fragrant lemons in last month’s painting.) The beauty of these two plants comes at a price though. Both the Yuzu and the Oregon grape demand careful attention when you’re near them as they hide painful spikes. And yes, both these plants are also in season, a theme I enjoyed from the last series and will continue. 

SQUARE SERVING DISH

Edo period (1603–1868), Japanese, Stoneware with underglaze decoration, 1 7/8 x 7 3/4 in.

Collection of The Seattle Art Museum
Photo: Paul Macapia

Written by Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art:

“Employing vivid colors and energetic, abstract designs, Oribe ware is the most dynamic type of Japanese tea ware. The style takes its name from Furuta Oribe, 1591-1615, the great tea master of his age. Designed for use in the meal accompanying the tea ceremony, a square dish like this would be used to serve fish, slowly revealing the image beneath as the meal was eaten. Oribe ware, as this tray excellently represents, broke with a tradition of elegant restraint to embrace an unprecedented level of vivacity.
This tray is meant to depict water, earth, and sky. We read it from bottom to top:
Starting in the lower left corner, the tray was dipped into a green glaze which visibly pooled during the firing process, evoking water.

Moving upward, a pink-tan band provides a bed for two semi-circles with radiating patterns. This common decorative motif represents ox cart wheels soaking in water—wooden  cart wheels needed to be soaked regularly to prevent warping. Between the two wheels, the pattern of squares and dots could represent a piece of dyed fabric. These are colors, images and activities associated with the earth.

The upper-most, tan portion encompasses a single large star, surrounded by three circles with trailing tails, likely comets. In the upper right corner, three arcing stripes abstractly render the long trailing clouds popular in Japanese painting. This band depicts the sky.

The ebullience that makes Oribe ware stand out amid tea ceramics reflects both the power and dynamism of the Momoyama Era (1573-1615), and, amidst political and social upheaval, a move to rebel against previous aesthetic rules, and the power structures they represented.”

I hope you enjoy the new Flight of Fancy series!

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.

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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.

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Miniature Vanitas

Vanitas with Flowers and Butterflies

As the flowers and trees fade and die back, fall is the perfect time for a miniature vanitas painting. Vanitas paintings were created long before and after they became a common genre in Netherlandish art of the 16th and 17th centuries. They are symbolic and are meant to remind us of the inevitability of death or change.

My grand show of color and life punctuates the shift toward winter, one last “Hurrah!” from the warmer seasons. The hint of the coming winter is found in the tiny, almost hidden hummingbird skeleton. But if you dig into the meaning of the items in the painting, you’ll find that both the cut flowers and skeleton symbolize the same things – death or transience. The cut flowers are preserved my painting in full bloom glory, but they began to fade even before I’d finished the paintings. But don’t worry, the butterflies are a symbol of regeneration, resurrection and the cycle of life. Everything’s going to be fine.  

Detail of Miniature Vanitas with Flowers, hummingbird skeleton and Butterflies oil painting by Rebecca Luncan

Hope you enjoy my newest miniature vanitas and I hope you’re keeping warm and healthy. Thanks to the flowers of my garden, to the dahlia garden at Volunteer Park, and to my sister-in-law for the hummingbird skeleton and the biggest dahlia I’ve ever seen. And a big thank you to you for your continued support.

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.

Detail of Miniature Vanitas with Flowers, oil painting by Rebecca Luncan
Miniature Vanitas with Flowers and Butterflies oil painting by Rebecca Luncan
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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″
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Insect Painting Miniature

In art school I was known as the “bug girl” because almost all of my painting had insects in them. Insects were a huge inspiration, and though they are no longer the primary focus on my work, they have continued to appear in my paintings throughout the years. I find that the closer that I look at the insect I’m painting, the more I feel a sense of empathy for it. I imagine a personality in there, and wonder about the history of it’s life.

My insect collection has been with me since my art school days. Some of my insects were gifts from Cincinnati Zoo entomologists, while others I sought out myself. I learned to pin insects from a friend I met at the frame shop where I used to work. 

Anita’s Insects

The insect specimens in this painting are from a very special part of my collection. These creatures came from three prized boxes put together by photographer Anita Douthat when she was a girl in Northern Kentucky. I knew Anita through her husband Cal Kowal, who was my photography teacher at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Still life paintings can tell a secret story through the symbolism of their elements. These pale raspberries grow in my garden and are symbols of kindness. The shell came from my husband’s pocket (he’s always collecting shells and rocks on his adventures) and are a symbol of birth and fortune. Insects are all around us, yet their forms, life cycles, and social structures couldn’t be more different than our own. Dragonflies symbolize change, and grasshoppers luck. Bees have had close ties with humanity and throughout the ages have variously stood for power, love, and industry. All of these types of insects can be found in the Northern Kentucky region where my models were originally collected over forty years ago (I exaggerated the blue in the dragonfly which was quite faded).

This painting is 5″ x 5″, oil on copper. Go to the Monthly Miniature page to see more of the paintings from the series, In Season.

Jan van Kessel the Elder, Flemish still life master that inspired this months painting

A Dragon-fly, Two Moths, a Spider and Some Beetles, With Wild Strawberries, Oil on copper; 9 x 13 cm

Jan van Kessel the Elder had big shoes to fit into. He was the great-grandson of Pieter Bruegel, who is cited as the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. His grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder, was a close friend and collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens and the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century. Not to mention his uncles and great uncles… Let’s just say, he came from a family that made a big and lasting impact on the art scene.

Starting his training at the age of nine, he was particularly influenced by the work of his grandfather and was quite versatile. He worked in many genres including studies of insects, floral still lifes, marines, river landscapes, paradise landscapes, allegorical compositions, scenes with animals and genre scenes.

I was drawn to his insect still life paintings by his playful compositions that fill every section of the page, while carefully balancing color and shape in a seemingly effortless manner. The results of his carefully painted tiny subjects do not come across as cold scientific illustrations, but instead are warm and lively portraits. And if that weren’t enough, he also painted these miniature still lifes on copper (my hero!).

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Still Life Paintings in Group Show “Going Dutch”

When I was starting my Monthly Miniature still life paintings last January, I got a serendipitous invitation from curator Jeremy Buben. He operates The FoodArt Collection and was putting together a show of still life’s and tuliperies inspired by still life’s of the Dutch tradition and tuliperies made in the 1600’s. I happily accepted the invitation to be one of the artists.

The show hosts a great mix of styles and mediums, each artist creating lush, elegant pieces. And you don’t often get to see tulipieres! A tuliperie or tulip-holder is an ornate vessel made specifically to display tulips. They were common during the 17th c and were often designed to grow the bulbs right in the vase. I hope you’ll get the chance to stop by the gallery to see all of the pieces in person. If you can’t make it, you can go to the gallery website and see all of the pieces from the exhibit online.

Flowers, Bird's Nest and Insects, still life oil painting by Rebecca Luncan

Flowers, Bird’s Nest and Insects, oil on copper 5″ x 5″

Opening Reception: Sunday April 28, 2-5pm
Shows up through the month of May, with Sunday hours and by appointment.

From the gallery:

“The FoodArt Collection is thrilled to present a group art show of tulipieres (tulip vases) and Dutch Golden Age inspired still lifes from seven local artists.

A brief explanation: upon returning from a holiday in Holland I became obsessed with the tulipiere, a strange and fantastical vase designed specifically for tulips. To my delight I learned that local ceramic artist Carol Gouthro shared the same interest and had even curated a tulipiere show just a few years earlier at the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) in La Conner. When the chance to put together this show came about I reached back out to Carol and asked her if she’d like to make her first tulipiere and show it alongside art inspired by the Dutch Golden Age. A few more invites went out and thus Going Dutch was created.

I’m excited to share my passion for tulipieres, a very useful vase in my opinion, and gorgeous classical inspired art from some extremely talented local artists! Please join us for the opening this Sunday and see these tulipieres for yourself. There will also be a healthy amount of Samish Bay cheese to eat.”

Tulipieres from:

Carol Gouthro
Lois Harbaugh
Terry Siebert

Visual Art from:

Michael Doyle
Rebecca Luncan
John Rizzotto
Jennifer Zwick

Facebook Event Page: Going Dutch

For Details and Directions click HERE

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A Muse for Spring

The inspiration for my March Monthly Miniature is artist, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (18 January 1573 – 1621) who was a still life painter of the Dutch Golden Age. He was among the founders of the tradition, the height of which dates to around 1600-1800. I’ve long admired paintings from this era and this series is giving me the opportunity to luxuriate the detailed little worlds created by so many different artists. Each of my twelve paintings will pay tribute to a different artist form this era and Ambrosius Bosschaert is definately one of my favorites. I’m drawn to his symmetrical and simple compositions and tried to compose my daffodil painting with some of the grace and elegance he so carefully crafts into each small painting. Go to my Monthly Miniatures gallery to see all of the paintings in this series. Learn more about this painting in my previous post.

Oil on Copper

Ambrosius Bosschaert is also a fellow painter on copper. If you look at the image below, you’ll notice that this three hundred year old painting is free of cracks or paint loss. Aside form the luminous and smooth surface, meal is an ideal painting surface because it is such a stable surface. It doesn’t tear or suffer from expanding or contracting with humidity like canvas or wood.

Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621), Still Life with Bouquet of Tulips, a Rose, Clover, and Cyclamen in a Green Glass Bottle, oil on copper

Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621), Still Life with Bouquet of Tulips, a Rose, Clover, and Cyclamen in a Green Glass Bottle, oil on copper

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Miniature Oil Painting of Daffodils

Daffodils are a symbol of the beginning of spring and the subject of my favorite poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth (scroll down for the poem). Though not as varied as tulips, the typically yellow flowers have been cultivated to bloom in many other shapes, sizes and colors. I wanted to show the wide variety available today and choose seven distinctive types for this miniature oil painting of daffodils.

Another herald of spring is the ladybug, which are just coming out of hibernation. I added three in this painting for good luck.

If you live in the Northwest, may have also recently seen the Northwest Salamander in your neighborhood! These sweet little creatures breed this time of year and I’m very lucky to live in an area where they are thriving. I live near a small lake and find them in my yard and out on the sidewalks when I go for walks. They’re amazingly still and gentle. They don’t hurry away, but just sit and smile up at me!

This one has quite a bit of tiny details and if you ever see it in person, you might want to have a magnifying glass handy so you don’t miss anything.

See all of the paintings in the series so far on the monthly miniature page and sign up for my monthly newsletter for a Monthly Miniature Preview & for updates from the studio.

Wishing you a very Happy Spring!

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.