Estevão Silva

A closer look into Estevão Silva's 'Natureza Morta', a still life painting from 1888.

Natureza Morta (1888) by Estevão SilvaPinacoteca de São Paulo

Estevão Silva is considered to be the first black artist to stand out among the students of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, an institution he joined in 1884.

From the biographical resources available about him, it appears that Estevão Silva is the son of enslaved or formerly enslaved African parents, and that he was either born free or obtained manumission at a very young age.

In any case, reports by his contemporaries describe him coping with a "very precarious situation".

Estevão Silva's work draws attention mainly to his skill with still lifes: for painting “very tasty fruits” and, thus, “defying the palate” of the observer, as Luiz Gonzaga Duque Estrada wrote in the late 1880s, one of the most important art critics in activity in the country at that time.

By the way, this still life at Pinacoteca’s collection is from that period, more precisely from 1888.

Perhaps the first aspect that stands out from this composition is the abundance of figures that fill the surface of the painting.

This is also why there is no central or privileged point in the structure of the image, a characteristic of this type of painting at that time...

...especially with silverware, open fruit...

... overexposed animals or floral arrangements.

Despite the suggestion of abundance due to the quantity of items, birds, fruits and tubers form, here, a scene that inspires, rather, simplicity, arranged in a raw state, as if they were freshly harvested...

...still attached to branches and roots, in apparently spontaneous arrangement, without too much planned organization, or that suggested some kind of material splendor.

The alternation of light and dark areas gives the work a sense of pulsation. On the one hand, the lighting gives vividness to the components and, on the other, the shadows soften the shapes.

The shallow depth of the pictorial space, or the proximity between the wall (the bottom of the image) and the surface of the painting, ends up making everything available - to the vision, but virtually also to the sense of smell, touch and taste of the viewer.

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