Reproduction early 18thC ‘Salvator Rosa’ moulding frame, painted
The complex lines and knobbly texture of a lobster’s carapace, as well as the scarlet glow of its cooked shell, have made it the jewel in many Old Master still life paintings. Stephen Rose has inverted this tradition: where Willem Kalf (Still life with a drinking horn, 1653, NG, London) sets his coral lobster amongst a horn with sculptured silver fittings, an opulently-worked glass, silver platters and a Persian carpet, Rose presents us with a live black lobster on an unceremonious piece of foil, its claws bound with elastic bands, in a stark colour scheme of black and silver, relieved with flashes of terra cotta and blue. Kalf’s lobster is dead, but arranged like a crouching tiger, about to pounce aggressively on a half-peeled lemon; Rose’s is alive, but quiescent and helpless. This work nudges towards a memento mori, and man’s helplessness in the face of time and death. It is also a brilliant technical achievement, depicting the upturned frosted face of the foil with all its creases, and the reflection of its shiny side in the polished table.