Chalice, Faberge Egg and Fish

Christo Coetzee

Oil on Board
60.6 x 121.6cm
Signed: "Christo Coetzee" (Lower/Left)
Circa: 1954


Verso:                  Inscribed on verso: "Coetzee" & "50 Marme"

Provenance:       Celia Denney Collection, Spain

Exhibited:           London, Hanover Gallery, 1955

                            Johannesburg.  Graham’s Fine Art Gallery.  May – July 2007.  “Birth of the Modernist Body”.

Illustrated :         Stevenson, M & Viljoen, D. 2001. Christo Coetzee: Paintings from London & Paris 1954 -1965. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape. p. 15

                            Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2007. Birth of the Modernist Body. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 156 & 157.






An extended visit to Spain in the early 1950s, where Coetzee also lived later in his life, sparked an interest in Spanish art and culture which inspired him throughout his career. The influence of seventeenth century Spanish still life painting (amongst other art historical influences), as well as his fascination with the magical, primordial and fantastical are evident in some of his most distinctive still lives of this period.

There is nothing naturalistic about the fish depicted in this scene. It is reminiscent of a primitive, mythical creature and becomes ambiguous and almost menacing in its strangeness. The head with its tentacles and staring eyes gives it the appearance of being more alive than dead. The contrast with the more delicate (but still loosely expressive) treatment of the chalice, the Faberge egg and the almost jewel-like quality of the two smaller fish adds to the charm as well as to the mystique of the scene.

Inherent in the tradition of still life is the fleeting nature of worldly goods, of sensual pleasures, the depiction of a scene from which human action or presence has been abolished. The selection of fish, chalice, and egg has undeniable religious connotations, in all likelihood inspired by the monastic culture of seventeenth century Spain. However, Coetzee’s still lives differ from these in his treatment of his subject matter. There is no attempt at precise, illusionistic rendering of the objects. Instead, Coetzee uses thickly layered impasto to create expressive textural qualities, and it is as much the tactile quality of the paint itself as the subject matter that initially attracts the viewer. His unexpected and imaginative use of colour, in the juxtaposition of black, white, greys and pinks, makes this an all the more compelling, mysterious and enigmatic image.

by Karin Preller

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