Still Life with Pear, Melon and Grapes is a painting by British artist Mary Fedden. Born in 1915, Fedden had a lifelong passion for art and left school at the age of sixteen to study at the Slade School of Art under the theatre designer Vladimir Polunin. Following her tutor’s lead, Fedden went on to work as a set painter at Sadler’s Wells and the Arts Theatre in Great Newport Street in London.
This painting reveals Fedden’s career-long preoccupation with still life painting; a genre that she described as her ‘real love’. While the subject may be a traditional one, with a well established place in art history, Fedden rejected the classical origins of the genre with its symbolic significance and realistic representations; instead, Fedden followed the example of earlier Modernists such as Pablo Picasso and Paul Cezanne who strove to break its formal stereotypes, reducing the subjects to their basic forms. Fedden always denied the symbolic significance of the objects in her still life paintings, instead seeing them simply as items that she enjoyed painting.
Fedden’s interest in the objects she painted is evident in Still Life with Pear, Melon and Grapes where the items on the table are the focus of the piece; their dark green and browns, and bright yellow and oranges contrast strongly against the rich red of the table and the background. As earlier noted, Fedden painted in the Modernist style which rejected realistic representation in favour for a more stylised form. The table and background have been flattened out into two separate planes; any suggestion of one resting on the other has been removed, together with any indication of texture or depth. The same applies to Fedden’s depiction of the fruit: the melons have become two-dimensional discs, much like the bowl in which the grapes, pear and lemons lie, even though in reality natural fruit is markedly different to a man-made dish. In this type of art, the viewer is given enough of an indication of reality to figure out the composition and its contents for themselves.
Fedden’s work is owned by a number of prestigious galleries and companies including Tate Modern and P&O. But perhaps her finest accomplishments include her career at the Royal College of Art, where she taught the young David Hockney and Allen Jones, her O.B.E and, finally, her election to the Royal Academy.