A small sub-genre of still life painting, pictures of shells became very popular in the 17th century, particularly in Holland, where one of the pioneers of shell painting was Balthasar van der Ast. This interest in shells was part of the general enthusiasm for scientific inquiry, and for the collecting of cabinets of curiosities. Shells could be appreciated on several different levels: as well as innately decorative, they could be seen as another type of memento mori, setting the enduring, vacated carapace of a dead animal against the ephemeral structure of a flower. All this inherited significance shadows this beautiful, ornamental arrangement of shells by Stephen Rose. Like our forebears, we are fascinated by the exotic forms and tactile surfaces of shells; they still exert a sense of scientific marvel, and an appreciation of their beauty and age. Other, newer relationships have accrued, such as shells used in near-abstract works (Georgia O’Keffe, Inside clam shell, 1930). A 21st century work can thus be imbued with complex meanings, as here in the beautifully-realized, semi-abstracted forms of these varied shells, as they rest and brood in a tranquil, vibrating space which conjures an idea of the sea bed.
Stephen Rose was born in Rochford, Essex, in 1960. His career as an artist began when, aged 8, he saw a print of Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul. He was trained at the Medway College of Art (1979-80), Cheltenham College of Art (1980-83; BA Hons in Fine Art), the British School in Rome (1982), and the Royal Academy of Art (1983-86; Diploma in Fine Art). In 1992 he was elected Brother of the Art Workers Guild, Bloomsbury, London.
He has won various awards, including the British Institute Award, 1983; the Royal Academy Painting Prize, 1984; the Landseer Scholarship, 1985; the Richard Ford Travelling Scholarship, 1986 (when he studied at the Prado, Madrid); and the Royal Overseas League International Painting Competition Travelling Prize, 1987 (when he visited in northern India). He has exhibited at the ICA, the Mall Galleries, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the National Portrait Gallery (BP Portrait Competition); in 2001 he had his first one-man exhibition at Target, in Munich, Germany.
Publications: How to paint in oils, Winsor & Newton, 2008