LOT 006

1936 - 1972

Still Life with Fruit and Blue Teapot
oil on canvas, 1957
13 1/4 x 16 1/4 in, 33.7 x 41.3 cm

Estimate: $15,000 - $20,000 CAD

Sold for: $25,000

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A gift from the Artist to her sister-in-law Brigitte Pflug, Munich
Private Collection, Toronto

Christiane Pflug was born in Berlin in 1936 to Regine Schütt, a Red Cross nurse, fashion designer and anti-fascist activist from a wealthy middle-class family. As a result of the tumult of war and for her own protection, Pflug spent significant periods of her childhood with family, family friends or in foster care in Austria and Germany, outside of Berlin, until she was reunited with her mother by 1949. She studied fashion design in 1953 at École Baziot in Paris, where she met her husband, Michael Pflug, a medical student who had studied art, instructed her in style, technique and theory, and encouraged her to pursue her interest in art.

Pflug was self-taught and throughout her career, devoted her time to painting the scenes of domestic life that surrounded her. Landscapes, interiors and still lifes were her primary focus, along with occasional portraits. The view outside of her doors and windows was also a common motif, and influenced her choice of homes. After their marriage in 1956, Pflug spent two years in Tunis with her husband, where her two daughters were born and her work began to flourish. While there, she studied the oeuvres of Francisco Goya and Pablo Picasso. Still Life with Fruit and Blue Teapot is exemplary of this early stage of her professional work.

Here, Pflug has distilled her composition into two elements: an ultramarine-blue teapot, with a simple floral design, and a lemon. We know that objects from Tunis must have been important talismans for her experience there, as they appear in later paintings produced in Canada. Subject matter and compositions from this period are straightforward, with descriptive titles, while their psychological intensity is communicated through tonal variation and a muted palette. Set along a single perspectival line, the composition of Still Life with Fruit and Blue Teapot is reminiscent of works by the still life painter Giorgio Morandi in its unapologetic attention to a simple subject that attests to quotidian life. Pflug has also placed the objects along the edge of a shared horizon line, which compresses the space they inhabit. The work presages the horizon lines that would be central to the artist’s later landscape paintings.

Pflug’s choice of subject is revealing: both objects hint at the influence of the Tunisian culture and landscape outside of the doors of her home. The dense blue and its floral motif are a reference to the vibrant colour and pattern of Tunisian textiles and decorative arts, while the lemon is a homegrown fruit in this scene. Yet in Pflug’s hands, the palette is subdued, creating that psychological intensity. The foreshortened scene created by the collapsed depth of field creates a slightly claustrophobic compression in this domestic space. The quality of light in Still Life with Fruit and Blue Teapot is uncertain: both lemon and teapot cast two shadows, the light seemingly coming from different directions.

In this quiet still life, the teapot emanates fragility, with its delicately looping handle and precise edges, while its pattern seems to be scarred by a dark-brown island of rust or chipped paint at its centre, which occludes the floral pattern. The painting reveals qualities of close observation over time. Pflug later became well-known for works that were often produced over a period of many months, with several seasons simultaneously depicted within one image. She has been called a “magic realist” for her powerful capacity to fill such scenes with an otherworldly significance, in part due to their temporal ambiguity.

After returning to live briefly in Munich, the family moved to Toronto in 1959. From 1962 to 1967, Pflug was represented by the prestigious Isaacs Gallery, which also represented artists Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland and William Kurelek. She enjoyed early commercial success and was also one of few women who held teaching positions at the Ontario College of Art and Design at that time. Pflug’s drawings and paintings were celebrated through three solo exhibitions, at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (1966), Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (Hart House) (1969) and the Sarnia Public Library and Art Gallery (1971), demonstrating her impact and significance. Her work is held in the collections of both the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Pflug died in 1972 at age 35.

We thank Lisa Baldissera for contributing the above essay. Baldissera has worked in curatorial roles in public art galleries in Western Canada since 1999 and is currently the director of Griffin Art Projects in North Vancouver, BC. She completed her PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2021.

Estimate: $15,000 - $20,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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