Still Life with Wine Bottle, Mug, Bowl and Ornament

Bettie Cilliers-Barnard

Oil on Canvas
46.3 x 39cm
Signed: "Bettie Cilliers-Barnard" (Lower/Right)
Dated: 1949


Exhibited:           Johannesburg.  Graham’s Fine Art Gallery.  29 May – 29 August 2008.  The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity”.

Illustrated:         Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2008. The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 118 & 119


Cilliers-Barnard’s Still Life with Wine Bottle, Mug, Bowl & Ornament is characteristic of early stylistic developments in her work, which showan increasing move away from the conventional directions that dominated the conservative South African artworld at the time. She would continue to pursue these stylistic innovations throughout her long and illustrious career. Having completed her studies at the University of Pretoria, Cilliers-Barnard continued painting under the tutelage of Phyllis Gardner and, in 1944, under the Belgian artist Marie-Louise Stradiot-Bougnet. Herearlier work was mainly descriptive and figurative, but evidence of experimentation with formal elements was clearly evident, fuelled, to a large degree, by the European influences introduced to her by her Belgian teacher. The rigidity of ingrained preconceptions gradually gave way toan increasing exploration of modernist formalist principles and resulted in herwork being fairly stylised even before she left for Europe in 1948 where she studied first in Antwerp and later in Paris.

Under the tutelage of André Lhote in Paris, she developed her use of colour as a means to animate the surface; to denote rather than imitate form. These first indications of a new individuality in style are particularly evident in her early still lifes. Still life, which has been central to visual representation over centuries, provided an ideal stage for intellectual exercises in form, colour, and line at the beginning of the twentieth century - perhaps due to a sense of liberation provided by the familiar forms, ostensibly stripped of human presence and narrative importance (Berman, 1993).

In Still Life with Wine Bottle, Mug, Bowl & Ornament the objects have been pared down to essentials, with all superfluous detail discarded infavour of simplification of form and experimentation with colour relations. Cilliers-Barnard is not concerned here with illusionistic rendering, but rather with the geometrical play of shapes and the use of relatively solid colour planes to suggest form and depth. The solidity of the shadows makes them as important as the objects themselves and further emphasizes the autonomy of the surface. More than simply a vehicle for exploring formal elements, Still Life with Wine Bottle, Mug, Bowl & Ornament is imbued with balance and harmony, enhanced by the repetition of foreground and background shapes and the considered use of cool and warm colours, toned to effect gradual transitions between adjacent areas. The work’s strength ultimately lies in the way in which the objects have been depicted, and in its deceptive simplicity.

by Karin Preller


Bibliography:       Berman, E. 1993. Art & Artists of South Africa: an Illustrated Biographical Dictionary and Historical Survey of Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists since 1875. Halfway House: Southern BookPublishers.

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