Still-Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market
Frans Snyders, 1614
Oil on canvas, 212 x 308 cm

This has always been one of my favorite paintings at the Art Institute. Every time I visit, I make a point to stop by and see it. I just feel that in terms of being influential, it carries the same style that I always try to incorporate into my photographs. I really like busy scenes, and not just as in a bustling French marketplace on a nice morning, I mean like this painting. A fairly overlooked scene in real life usually has so much going on. What strikes me about this artwork has always been three specific things. The first thing is that I love the rich tones of the paint. Look at the blue in the pheasant (or whatever bird it may actually be, I don’t know, I’m not a bird expert). It plays so nicely off of the red of the man and the chickens at the bottom. The second thing his how much the man who slaughtered all of these animals looks like Santa. It has always seemed like a really snarky anti-PETA advertisement. I have always loved Santa’s pose. It’s like he’s saying, “Howdy do, young Frans, how are you this nice morning? Oh you want to paint me? How do I pose, like this?” The third thing is how beautiful the dead swan is (or really any of the animals for that matter). They’re all so delicately posed, like they’re barely lifeless.
Also, if you notice, there’s a little boy pick-pocketing Santa. And also, there’s a cat hiding somewhere. This is all relevant to how much I enjoy the “busy” aspect of this painting.
The scale of the painting also helps. It’s so lifelike because it is so huge. It’s about 7×10 feet, and when you walk right up to it, it’s just about real size relevant to you, as in, Santa is life size.
In terms of interpretation of the work, I cannot really give one. It does happen to be a pretty straight-forward painting, just with a lot of Easter eggs. I don’t think the painting is speaking to the audience as a social commentary about meat and game and how we eat too much as a society and how cruel it is to slaughter all of these animals for our personal comfort. I really do just think it’s a painting illustrating the subtle beauty of a random marketplace tabletop on a random day in a random town. But that’s how I view it. In a cheesy way, it reminds me of my admission paper I wrote to get into this school. It was a long time ago, but I basically wrote my paper about the concept of when to “push the shutter” (I’m a photography major) and how that can make or break an image. This painting illustrates that for me, that being a true artist isn’t about knowing how to paint and knowing about perspective (although I’m sure that helps), it’s really about knowing when to capture an image in time.