Slice of Life

Columbus' Keny Galleries showcases Ohio painters.

An exquisite form that became popular in America during the early 19th century, still life painting is considered a superb component of the artistic landscape.

Through June 14, Keny Galleries in Columbus’ German Village is showcasing the talents of our state in “Ohio Still Life Painters (1865–1945),” an exhibition comprising 20 works by a dozen artists.

Jim Keny, who co-owns the gallery with his brother, Tim, defines still life as “depicting an assortment of objects.”

“Often,” he explains, “it’s a table top holding an arrangement of fruit or vegetables. Or, [the composition contains] objects you might associate with [a] masculine study: books, glasses, pipes.”

Some artists, Keny adds, broadened the definition by including fruit arranged on a grassy knoll outdoors or in a basket.

Focusing on paintings created from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries, “Ohio Still Life Painters” highlights a cross-section of styles, including trompe l’oeil — paintings meant, Keny says, “to deceive the eye.”

“The artist,” the curator explains, “painted meticulously rendered depictions of everyday objects to scale with particular attention to form, texture and lighting.

“The composition sometimes continues onto the frame,” he adds. “[It is] meant to be so compelling that the viewer would want to pick the object off of the table.”

One of the leaders of this very realistic style of painting is Cincinnati native Claudine Raguet Hirst, who used the pseudonym Claude to veil her femininity. Although she painted traditional male-oriented arrangements, Hirst also advocated for women’s rights in her work. In fact, she often included images of books written by or referring to female authors.

Hirst’s 1897 painting, “A Book of Letters,” for example, depicts a volume open to a missive written to Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, who was a celebrated writer of the 17th century. One of Newcastle’s books is also prominently depicted.

The artist distinguished herself from her male counterparts by working in watercolor rather than the traditional oil associated with still life — a feat many painters would not think of attempting.

“Meticulous still lifes are typically done in oil,” explains Keny, “because they are very hard to paint with watercolor.”

Hirst, Keny adds, makes a subtle statement on women’s rights by using watercolor — considered “a lady’s medium” — to paint traditionally masculine objects.

Work by Chagrin Falls native, Henry Church Jr., is also in the spotlight. Keny considers his aptly titled “Still Life” to be one of the best examples of Church’s art in the country.

The painting, done in the late 1870s, depicts a Victorian table setting containing an assortment of fruit and a pitcher filled with what appears to be lemonade. The level of detail Church applied to the painting is painstaking, from tiny seeds barely evident on the watermelon, to patterns on the silverware, tablecloth and wallpaper to ships seen sailing far off in the distance as viewed from an open archway.

Other noteworthy artists on display include Dayton native Edward Edmondson Jr., Columbus native Lucius Kutchin and DeScott Evans, who spent most of his career in Ohio.            

Keny Galleries is located at 300 E. Beck St., Columbus 43206. For a full list of current and upcoming exhibits, visit