Still Life (The Infinite Painting)

Harriet Backer
Harriet Backer, "The Eternity Painting", 1919-1931


Actor portraying Harriet Backer 

…he really meant it, that he thought it was beautiful; but there will be no half-finished artwork of mine hanging in the Gallery! 

This quote is from a letter Harriet Backer write to her nephew. She was talking about Jens Thiis - the National Gallery's director at the time. 

In 1918, Thiis, commissioned a still life by Backer for the gallery’s collection.  

It is rare for museum directors to make this type of order, and for Backer it was both an honorable and difficult assignment.  

Afterall, the painting was going to the National Gallery itself!  

There was something about the assignment that caused a rare self-critical attitude. She worked on it for 13 years!  

From 1918 until 1931, Backer experimented with the composition of this still life. 

There are photographs from her studio where the painting is on the easel, and it looks different there than it does today!  

It was under constant change. Elements such as a plaster head were taken out, and an elephant entered!  

Both the tabletop and the background changed at times. 

Thiis asked for the painting on several occasions, but Backer insisted that it was not finished. 

When Harriet Backer died, the still life was still in her studio!