Treasures from the Vault: Janet Fish

Fish’s decision to focus on still life painting was an interesting one. For centuries there has been a hierarchy of subject matter in art – histories or dramas have been the most highly regarded, followed by portraiture, and then the lowly still life. This latter genre was often viewed as quaint and trite, something light and palatable that female painting hobbyists could do in their spare time when not taking care of the home or their children. While some artists have attempted to raise the status of still lives through history – 17th and 18th century Spanish and Flemish still life painters, for example, whose paintings rival photography in their level of detail and perfection – the genre failed to ever move up the ladder. Fish likely knew that she was tackling an almost impossible subject, but it’s possible that that’s what drew her to it: in a modern world with an abundance of abstract painters, still life painting was a true challenge that she could make her own.