The only still Life Lack kept from his time spent studying with Gammell. He said that it was upon the completion of this still life that he knew he had what it took to be a professional painter.1 Compared to his later student work, and most certainly his professional work, this still life falls short; however, it represents a significant milestone for the aspiring student artist. While some of the drawing is not rendered accurately, (the copper lid on the pot isn’t accurate and the rendering of the red fabric to the left of the pot appears stiff, as though he wasn’t certain how to capture the folds of the drapery around the pot). However, certain passages are vey well painted: the rose, the reflective glass bottle, and the pear and book on the ceramic plate. The colors harmonize and his command of the composition is sound.
It’s the color harmony that takes center stage in this work and this is best summed up in Lack’s own words:
“The study of true color as opposed to decorative color is best undertaken initially by still life painting, attained using the sight-size method. The student’s first still life arrangements should not be cluttered. Nor more than four of five objects should be used. The value scheme and keying must be well thought out, including good strong contrasts of light and shadow on the objects; otherwise the student will have a tendency to become too fussy in his rendering. As skill and experience develop, more elaborate designs can be attempted. Still-life painting not only provides a fine way of learning to see color but is also an admirable method of developing a personal sense of composition.
“In starting a still life, a preliminary sight-size charcoal study of the main placement of shades and values of the subject should be worked out. It is also helpful to make small color sketches in oil of the arrangement on sized paper no more than eight inches by ten or twelve inches in order to work out problems in color composition. The Charcoal layout is then transferred to the canvas, and the student proceeds to paint directly the shapes, colors, and values of the objects, paying close attention to the correct relationship of the parts to the whole.”2
1 Doug Knutson, conversation with Richard Lack, 2009
2 On the Training of Painters With Notes on the Atelier Program, Richard R. Lack