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‘What can six apples not be?’: Still Life and Modern British Writers

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Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

London

WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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Fellows Lunch by Claudia Tobin (Early Career Fellow in English at the University of Cambridge and Research Associate at Jesus College).

Still life has long been characterised as a ‘minor’ genre in art history due to its humble subject matter, which typically presents objects associated with the domestic sphere. In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries the French Post-impressionist Paul Cézanne painted nearly two hundred works in which he radically reinvigorated the genre. Widely regarded as the modern master of still life, his work reconceives the polarities of stillness and movement and demonstrates a revolutionary mode of perception and attention to objects. It was partly this phenomenon that stimulated many modern literary figures to write about their feelings for his work in ways that would stretch beyond formal art criticism. This paper focuses on the writings of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence and examines their different lexicons of responsiveness to Cézanne. It proposes that the seemingly humble subject matter of still life becomes a site of unexpected significance and a means of transformation in their work. More broadly, it uncovers a ‘language’ for a subtle spectrum of stillness and animation, which illuminates the potency of still life for artists and writers in the so-called ‘age of speed’ and complicates critical characterisations of modernism as preoccupied by movement.

Claudia Tobin is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English at the University of Cambridge and a Research Associate at Jesus College. Her research broadly focuses on the relationship between the visual and verbal arts in the first half of the twentieth century. She is currently completing a book which explores still life across different media in the early-to mid-twentieth century. Her work often involves curatorial projects including assisting on the exhibition Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision at the National Portrait Gallery in 2014 and she is contributing to a forthcoming exhibition on Virginia Woolf at Tate St Ives.

The Fellows Lunch Series is a series of free lunchtime research talks given by recipients of Paul Mellon Centre Fellowships. All are welcome but please book a ticket in advance.

Image: Paul Cézanne, Still-life with apples, 1877-1878, Fitzwilliam Museum, lent by the Provost and Fellows of King's College (Keynes collection)

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Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

London

WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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