London Lantern

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Nature Morte: Photographs by Guido Mocafico at Colnaghi

03/04/2008, By

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Bouquet de Tulipes

Nature Morte is an exhibition of recent photographic works by contemporary photographer Guido Mocafico; a collaboration between Bernheimer Fine Art Photography and Hamiltons Gallery. This work not seen in London before is inspired by the Old Master paintings from the Northern European Schools of the 17th Century.

Seventeen of Mocafico’s works will hang in the company of eight Old Master paintings from the Bernheimer – Colnaghi collection at Colnaghi, 15 Old Bond Street from 15th May until 18th June. The editions of each of Mocafico’s works are limited to eighteen. Colnaghi is the oldest Old Master dealer in London and was acquired by Konrad O. Bernheimer, the fourth generation of one of Europe’s major art dealing families.

The internationally renowned photographer Guido Mocafico is particularly known for his still-life studies, as well as his commercial work, which has appeared in V, and Men’s Vogue, and for such clients as Gucci, Bulgari, Armani and Hèrmes. In the exhibition he concentrates on three genres of still-life studies: Banquet, Floral and Vanitas, or as Mocafico calls them: ‘Natures Morte de Table’, ‘Bouquets’ and ‘Vanitès’. Both the ‘Bouquets’ and ‘Vanitès’ groups are new, and being shown in London for the first time.

Peeter Sion

In his Banquet series, Mocafico alludes to works by Floris van Dijck (Delft or Haarlem 1575 – 1651 Haarlem) and Pieter Claesz (Berchem 1596/1597 – 1660 Haarlem), both great exponents of this genre of still-life. Still-life artists of this period wanted to create the perfect illusion. In compositions such as ‘Nature Morte a la Grenade’ or ‘Nature Morte au Hareng’, Mocafico appropriates various elements from these set pieces of the Old Masters, recreating their atmospheric settings, and combining these elements in new compositions. Mocafico also uses the classic motif of the lemon in ‘Nature Morte aux Hûitres’ where the peel twists from the silver plate set with three oysters. Seen alongside works by Gerret Willemsz Heda (Haarlem 1620/25 – 1649) or Maerten Boelema Stomme (Leeuwarden 1611 – c. 1664 Haarlem) the inspiration is apparent.

The genre of floral still-lifes, also dates from the early 17th century, and often referred to the wealth of their owners, particularly during the ‘tulip mania’ of the late 1630s. The painters’ ultimate objective was the perfect imitation of nature with the help of nature studies. On closer inspection, Mocafico’s mood-laden ‘Bouquets’, particularly the ‘Bouquet de Tulips’ and ‘Grande Composition Florale’ appear to be the modern equivalent of these floral still-lifes, thereby underlining the dialogue between this contemporary work and the Old Masters. Particularly, when Mocafico’s work is seen beside the floral still-lifes masterpieces of Nicolaes van Veerendael (Antwerp 1640-1691) and Jacob Marrel (Frankenthal 1613/14 1681 Frankfurt).


‘Vanitès’, the final genre of Mocafico’s depicts human transience, through such motifs as skulls, hourglasses, extinguished candles, soap bubbles and flowers. Generally they are very ordinary items that are grouped around a skull in the centre of the picture. Just like the Old Masters, he uses specific motifs to express the notion of ‘Vanitès’. Mocafico’s ‘Vanitas’ is a variation of a well-known work by Philippe de Champaigne (Brussels 1602 – 1674 Paris). Whereas Mocafico normally utilises only individual elements from famous compositions, in ‘Allègorie de la Caduscité’, he adopts the entire composition of Abraham van der Schoor’s (active in Amsterdam 1643-50) ‘Vanitas Still Life with Skulls and Hourglass’ from the Rijksmuseum, with only a few minor modifications.

Both the painting and the photo encompass the ideal of the vanitas genre. In them we see the classic symbols of death laid out on a smooth marble slab. Five skulls plus a lower jaw and bones are arranged in the centre of the composition, between which cut flowers can be made out. On the decorated dresser in the background there are also letters, which embody the transience of human relationships; although for Mocafico it is principally aesthetic considerations and the remarkable nature of the subject that concerns him.

Vanitas Still Life

By studying the Old Masters in minute detail, Mocafico succeeds not only in copying the two-dimensional paintings but also in bringing them back to life. Mocafico works with an analogue large-format camera producing ektachromes in the largest possible format, which guarantees high resolution and colour brilliance. By using this method, Mocafico is able not only to imitate the complex compositions of the Old Masters in his works, but to add a further layer to them. Whereas the still-lifes of the Old Masters strove to be a perfect portrayal of the real world, the photographer tries to imitate and copy the paintings of the Old Masters.

Mocafico’s Parisian studio resembles the workshop of a 17th century Dutch painter, with collections of antique rummers, and porcelain to create the authentic ambiance; together with his team of stylists, who carefully source the correct flowers, cheese or fresh meat to ensure no jarring note of modernity distracts the viewer from his. His works fool us in several respects, since they convey the illusion of being paintings that strive to imitate the real world.

Blanca Bernheimer, commenting on the exhibition: ‘When I first saw Guido Mocafico’s work, I knew immediately that I wanted to exhibit his work alongside the Bernheimer-Colnaghi Old Masters. Mocafico understands the structure, light and composition of still-life painting in a way unseen in photography before. The goal of his work, ‘illusion’ is the same quality seen in Old Masters and I wanted to thank Hamiltons for allowing us to convert this dream into an exhibition.’

Guido Mocafico - ‘The day a viewer, while looking at my prints, asked me why I took photographs of paintings, I knew that my goal – illusion – was reached.’ Tim Jefferies, of Hamiltons Gallery said: ‘Hamiltons is pleased to be able to introduce the work of this extremely talented contemporary artist to collectors of Old Master paintings through this exhibition held in the galleries of one of London’s most respected Old Master dealers.’

15th May to 18th June
15 Old Bond Street
London W1S 4AX
+ 44 (0)20 7491 7408
Opening hours:
Monday to Friday
10 am to 6 pm
Admission free

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