Ellen Hutchinson, Sensory Perception

2 minute read
Still life with linzer torte1

Ellen Hutchinson's work evokes the deep history of the still-life genre, which at its best combines highly detailed realism and an expressive symbolic subtext.

This painting by Ellen Hutchinson is Still Life with Linzer Torte. I don’t that it’s my favorite of the paintings in Hutchinson’s new show Sensory Perception, but it’s a useful starting point for discussing this artist’s work. Look at how sensuous it is! There’s the variety of surface textures (clear glass, colored glass, silverplate, wood, cloth), the pleasingly pyramidal structure (Hutchinson is very much a traditionalist in regard to the genre), and then there’s the inexpressible. This is what the viewer brings to the painting. The cut flowers, the half glass of milk, the wisp of steam rising from the coffee — and that perfect, round, white-glazed torte with a single bite taken from it, which practically pulls my eyes into the painting. This evanescence — the fleeting power of pleasure — creates a beautiful image that leaves me with the subtle hint of a moral.

In this work, Beach Still Life, Hutchinson uses an open door to expand a tabletop still life into a seascape. We see the human-made world and the natural world, order and freedom. This still life features the same mix of surfaces and textures as Still Life with Linzer Torte; in addition, the bunched-up appearance of the tabletop array contrasts nicely with the open simplicity of the sand, sea, and sky that lie beyond. Notice too, how skillfully Hutchinson catches the reflection of the green-glass cups and saucers on the silver of the blade of the serving knife. There is something to be said for technical mastery. Hutchinson has said that she regards painting flowers as similar to painting someone’s portrait, but I find that she treats everything that she paints with that level of respect. Her painted blue pitcher probably looks better than the “real” pitcher does.

See this show!

What, When, Where

Ellen Hutchinson, Sensory Perception. Through March 29 at Gross McCleaf Gallery, 127 South 16th Street, Philadelphia. 215-665-8138 or

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