Petrescu's Still Lifes



Petrescu's Still Lifes


Tyler, Geoffrey




As with other major themes in Petrescu's art, the still life has had a continuing existence, although its proportional importance has varied from time to time. Moreover, the incorporation of byzantine and collage techniques has mirrored their use in his other themes.

Two major subjects have comprised a very large proportion of his still lifes - "flowers in a vase" and "objects on a table top.” The former are particularly distinctive, with their bright, bold colours, especially red, brown and green, and their generally joyous quality. They do not attempt to depict the flowers or vase in fine detail but for Petrescu they are very much at the realistic end of his spectrum. Although gold leaf is incorporated, the use is more sparing than in other of his paintings. The "flowers" are the least byzantine of his works. In a sense they are particularly "Romanian" in character with the typical national love of flowers coming strongly through.

The "table top" still lifes are more varied than the "flowers", as might be expected, since there is much less limit on the objects that are in included in the design. Flowers in a vase, after all, are all basically much the same. With one exception discussed below, the objects on the table are those used by all still life painters - fruit, vegetables, plates and glasses, bread, cheese, etc. Just as the subjects of these still lifes are more varied than in the "flowers", their presentation is much more abstract. In the flower series it is the colours that vary rather than the basic composition. In some table paintings the representation is relatively realistic, but in most, probably almost all since around 1980, the style is much more abstract. Objects must be recognized as much from the context as from the way they are painted; taken in isolation they might well be thought of as purely abstract shapes. Colours, too, often bear little relation to the real-life object. Petrescu's "table tops" are very much 20th century works, with only a passing connection to earlier periods.

In the 1970s, Petrescu painted a series of still lifes that are unique. His objects were Romanian liturgical silver of the 14th to 17th century. These objects themselves, often gilded and almost always with repousse decoration, are some of the masterpieces of Romanian art, the quality of the work being extraordinarily high, equal to any in the world of a comparable period. Included among the objects in Petrescu's works in this style, is the chivot, which is generally the centre piece of the compositions. Chivots are models of monastery churches, complete with domes and crosses, and with the walls normally embossed, molded and engraved with iconic scenes. The nearest equivalent of the chivots of the Romanian Orthodox Church would be the carved ivory or enameled metal caskets of the Byzantine Catholic Church.

These religious still lifes are unique in Petrescu's works in this field because of their overt Byzantine element. This is carried from the objects themselves into the painting techniques. Gold leaf of varying textures and colours is the dominant medium, accented by some use of silver leaf. In contrast, the paint is used mainly as a backgound with some use as shading and accent on the objects. The repousse element of the objects is suggested by thick underpainting beneath the metallic leaf. The "chivots" represent the epitome of the combination of the artist's still lifes with Byzantine techniques. They were painted at a time when gold and silver leaf was first becoming readily available to him and as in some other works of this period, they are in many respects essays in the use of leaf. Theirs is a joyous richness and happiness in them, that perhaps owes something to the fact that physically and politically, life in Romania was becoming for a short period, a little easier, for Petrescu in particular and Romanians in general.

From the 1980s onwards, the still lifes also began to include some collage. Probably not as much on average as his works in general, but still a significant amount. The painted design is still the most significant part of the compositions and the collage takes more the form of accent rather than a major part of the paintings. The use of collage went hand in hand with the increasing abstraction of the still lifes, both elements reflecting the overall pattern of the artist's development.



Tyler, Geoffrey, “Petrescu's Still Lifes,” Tyler Collection of Romanian and Modern Art: University of Tasmania, accessed December 9, 2021,