Luis Meléndez (1716 – 1780) is a good example of how, throughout all time, some painters extraordinarily gifted to make their art did not succeed. For example, this artist made a living for many years as a miniaturist in Madrid. However, he longed to become a court painter. Something he never got. In fact, he ended up dying completely poor and the most he achieved was commissioned byKing Charles IVabout forty still lifes. Among them, this one from Breams and oranges which is part of the holdings of the Madrilenian Museo del Prado.
Still life with sea breams and oranges by Luis Meléndez
This canvas, like almost all of his still lifes, above all transmits realism and simplicity. It is about a painter who fled from the artifices and abuses of color. We can see that the whole painting is dominated by ocher, tan and gray colors, and the orange and red tones of the eyes and fins of the fish draw our attention.
It's also interesting to see how it lights up the whole still life. He places all the elements on a dark background, whose neutrality immediately places the spotlight on the food and equipment on the table. Although, the greatest light falls on the foreground where the sea breams are located, in the center, the oranges on the right, and a head of garlic on the left.
This lighting comes from an indeterminate point that would be outside the frame, and also elevated. It is actually like the point of view he has chosen to paint this still life, as everything is represented from a high point of view, that is, an aerial perspective allows him to give depth to the scene.
Such an elevated point of view that we can even see the bottom of the table, on which each element is placed on different planes. And at the same time he presents us with an almost pyramidal structure, contrasting sizes and colors, to concentrate in the center of the canvas what he thinks is most important.
We have already said that Luis Meléndez had worked for many years as a miniaturist, so when he painted all this commission for still lifes, in 1772, he mastered all possible techniques to capture even the smallest detail. And if we look very carefully at the painting, and even with a magnifying glass, we can see that he even painted the defects in certain parts of the wooden board, or the threads of the sack that wrap the oranges, or the scales of the two sea breams.