History of Art Society: Tjalf Sparnaay

Reinventing Dutch Still Life Painting

The College was honoured to welcome the Dutch artist Tjalf Sparnaay to address the History of Art Society on Thursday evening. 

Tjalf is recognised worldwide as one of the leading still life painters active today, and his work has been exhibited to great critical acclaim in New York, London, and Paris. Tjalf, who has just starred in a major exhibition in Rotterdam, travelled to Marlborough from the Netherlands specially to give his talk to our pupils. His theme was “Reinventing Still Life”, and he demonstrated how he came to find the themes that have made him famous, the breathtakingly lifelike (“Megarealist”) images of sandwiches, ketchup bottles, cellophane-wrapped tulips, and his iconic fried eggs. From his early experiments, his paintings have become so well known that he has recently had to turn down an offer from McDonald’s to use his hamburger paintings in an advertising campaign.

Thursday’s lecture was word-perfect, as finely detailed as his painstaking pictures, and the students found it fascinating. In it, he talked about the careful stages that go in to developing his canvases, as well as the evolution of themes. Tjalf also emphasised how his work is deeply connected to his heritage as a Dutch painter: Tjalf was born in Haarlem, so is very conscious of the Haarlem still-life masters, Pieter Claesz and Willem Claesz Heda; however, he also stressed his admiration for Vermeer and Rembrandt and their use of light. The talk was a revelation, and hugely enjoyed by the History of Art students who joined Tjalf afterwards for a celebratory meal. We were thrilled and privileged to have Tjalf and his wife Hester with us.

Libby Adam (MM U6)
Chair of the History of Art Society

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