The longer I look at baroque-inclined conceptual artist Helen Chadwick‘s Vanitas II (1986), the more I am persuaded that Clara Peeters‘ quite traditional Vanitas, painted over three and a half centuries earlier, is much more radical.
Young women and fresh flowers had long been compared in poetry written by men to persuade their mistresses to concede their flower. Here, our awareness that the woman in the painting probably is the artist herself makes the wilting flower’s proximity to her more poignant than it has ever been.
(In fact, once you notice the wilting flower, you soon start getting the strange feeling that every other object in the painting does not assert its value effortlessly.)
Helen Chadwick must have realised that the female body in art is never a neutral subject. She decided to abandon its explicit representation two years after her self-portrait was shot.