Catalogue entry

Not inscribed
Household paint on hardboard, 47 7/8×48 (121.5×122)
Purchased from the Waddington Galleries with funds provided by the Tate Gallery Publications Department, the Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund and the Grant-in-Aid 1976
Coll: Private Collection
Exh: Royal College of Art Diploma Show 1963; Work by some past students of Chelsea and Polytechnic Schools of Art, Gallery of Chelsea School of Art, March–April 1965(7); Recent Still Life, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island, February–April 1966 (15, repr.)

When Caulfield painted this picture he had for some time been interested in the work of Juan Gris, of whom he painted a portrait in 1963 (rep. Christopher Finch, Patrick Caulfield, 1971, p.23). In a letter to Christopher Finch in 1969, quoted in Finch, op.cit, p.59, Caulfield wrote ‘I think that a good example of ... painting about cubism... is the painting called Still Life with Dagger. This contains a device which Juan Gris used of having an area which bent around the top left of [sic. this should read ‘or’] right-hand corner of the picture representing the sky or the outside of the window areas of the composition. Also it contains an Islamic dagger in jade colour, a jug, a necklace, and an abstracted palm shape. In fact it seems to contain a lot of elements I have used in my painting.’

The influence of Gris is seen especially in the design of the rim of the jug and in the way in which indoor and outdoor space are elided ambiguously. The ‘table top’ element was not intended to be pinned down to that reading in particular. The seeming naturalism of the (imaginary) necklace by contrast with the treatment of jug and space is a further example of the confrontation of idioms seen in ‘Vases of Flowers’.

In 1963 many of Caulfield's contemporaries were painting images from popular or admass culture. He wished by contrast to treat subjects that were remote and impossible in a contemporary context, even alien or exotic. This was one intention underlying his choice of a Delacroix subject to paint in ‘Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi’ 1963 (repr., reversed, in Finch, op.cit, p.27). It also underlay his choice of Islamic artefacts in ‘Still Life with Necklace’ 1964 (repr, Finch, op.cit, p.24) and in the very closely connected present painting. In both works, the Islamic objects were mostly painted from detailed drawings which Caulfield made of the actual items on public view in display cases at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. In ‘Still Life with Dagger’, the hilt was developed from Caulfield's drawing of a dagger in the Victoria and Albert Museum (which adjoined the painting school of the Royal College of Art). The Department of Metalwork at the Museum write that the dagger ‘is Indian (Mughal) and dates from the eighteenth century. The museum number is I.S. 100–1955. The dimensions are 5×4×1 in. Only the hilt survives.’ The hilt is ‘of mottled jade inlaid with gold and set with precious stones.’ Caulfield thinks that he might have used another scabbard as the source for the scabbard shown in this painting, or he might have invented this detail.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978