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.
Stephen Rose was born in Rochford, Essex, in 1960. His career as an artist began when, aged 8, he saw a print of Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul. He was trained at the Medway College of Art (1979-80), Cheltenham College of Art (1980-83; BA Hons in Fine Art), the British School in Rome (1982), and the Royal Academy of Art (1983-86; Diploma in Fine Art). In 1992 he was elected Brother of the Art Workers Guild, Bloomsbury, London.
He has won various awards, including the British Institute Award, 1983; the Royal Academy Painting Prize, 1984; the Landseer Scholarship, 1985; the Richard Ford Travelling Scholarship, 1986 (when he studied at the Prado, Madrid); and the Royal Overseas League International Painting Competition Travelling Prize, 1987 (when he visited in northern India). He has exhibited at the ICA, the Mall Galleries, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the National Portrait Gallery (BP Portrait Competition); in 2001 he had his first one-man exhibition at Target, in Munich, Germany.
Publications: How to paint in oils, Winsor & Newton, 2008