Bo Bartlett, Passivity

Bo Bartlett: Passivity (1979) Oil on panel
Oil on panel
Credit Line
Museum purchase, 2012
11 x 9 in.

In painting a dead bird hanging from a string, Bartlett demonstrates the classic function of still life: to remind viewers, through the frozen moment in time, of the brevity of life and the futility of vanity. Here, the artist exaggerates the sensuous beauty of the bird and its feathers in rich hues of purple and gold. A trompe l’oeil, or “fool the eye,” effect is created by the meticulous realism of the bird, which casts a shadow on the white panel as if it is a three-dimensional entity in space. The artist also designed the wood-panel frame. 

Passivity harks back to the trompe l’oeil tradition of nineteenth-century American painting. Bartlett further explores the power and effects of realism and illusion. 

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