Celery is another little-celebrated vegetable; its appearance in still life paintings is limited to walk-on parts supporting boars’ heads and copper pans (Jean-Baptiste Oudry), or filling the cornucopia of an 17th century Dutch market-stall. Except for Juan Sanchez Cotán’s depictions of its cousin, the cardoon, no artist seems to have made a head of celery the protagonist of a painting, let alone set it upright in the heroic stance we see in the present work. This has elements of Art Nouveau in the focused, frontal depiction, and, particularly, in the twining, curvaceous stems: compare it with Alphonse Mucha’s poster for Lorenzaccio by Musset, where Sarah Bernhardt muses in a swirl of velvet cloak. The lighting is soft and golden, harmonizing with the warm scumbled tones of the background, and giving the celery a vivid plasticity and animation.
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