Still Life Art

Still life art is an age-old practice that typically features an arrangement of inanimate objects, such as fruit and flowers, or domestic objects, such as candlesticks and glassware. Due to the lack of human forms this genre historically did not rank highly within the hierarchy of art genres. Yet, despite this, this genre has stood the test of time. The simple subject matter and essential nature of still life art has lent the genre to exciting experimentations of colour, space and form. Throughout the history of art, artists have manipulated the subject matter, arguably reasserting its place within the art world.…

At Rise Art we have hand-picked an excellent collection of still life paintings and limited-edition prints. Our collection exhibits the versatility of still life art, with subject matters ranging from Viacheslav Rogin’s traditionally rendered depictions of fruit to Christian Furr’s more contemporary subject matters. At Rise Art we believe that the diversity of our online gallery demonstrates how this genre has remained so prominent, as our artists continue to push the boundaries of this subject matter.

History of Still Life

The earliest example of still life painting can be dated back to the 15th century BCE, where paintings of food and crops were found on the walls of ancient Egyptian burial sites. This subject matter reflects funerary practices, where the dead were buried with items such as food, jewellery or clothes, intended as an offering to the Gods and to sustain the deceased in the afterlife.

Paintings of inanimate objects can be found throughout the ancient Greek and Roman times, predominantly as decoration for vases, mosaics or frescoes. However, it wasn’t until the 16th century that this subject matter was considered an art form in its own right. Many historians consider Jacopo de’Barbari’s wall painting of a dead partridge and a pair of iron gloves, completed in 1504, to be the first European still life.

The genre became particularly popular with the Dutch as throughout the 16th century the Northern Renaissance broke away from the idealised and heavily religious focus of the Italian Renaissance. In turn, Northern European artists began to favour common scenes of everyday life that reflected modern existence.

The Dutch Golden Age

The term ‘still life’ derives from the Dutch word ‘stilleven’, which was introduced in the 16th century. However, still life painting became most prominent throughout the 17th century, an era known as The Dutch Golden Age. At the beginning of the century the images have a simple and nationalistic tone, featuring big wheels of cheese and other local products. Yet, as Dutch society became increasingly wealthy, due to colonial ventures and international trading, we witness an influx of foreign goods in still life compositions. In turn, the modest and local spread flourished into a luxurious and exotic banquet that celebrated the country’s wealth.

The Dark Side of Still Life

While many art critics see this era as a celebration of decadence, some interpret a darker and morally symbolic side to the genre. The depiction of half eaten fruit or flowers in full bloom remind the viewer of life. Yet these symbols of vitality are often juxtaposed with symbols of death. Clocks and hourglasses or burnt out candles suggest the fragility and fleeting nature of life. Additionally, a skull is often incorporated to further reinforce the symbolic meaning of the painting as a memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’.

Modern Painting

Still life painting persisted throughout the experimental modern era where the staple subject matter was depicted in varying styles and manipulated through the use of colour and treatment of space. Painting inanimate objects offered the artist control over the composition and lighting, allowing them to develop their style. Cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque played with the familiarity of everyday objects by fragmenting their shape in a move towards abstraction.

Post-modern still life

The familiarity and availability of mundane items allowed this genre to continuously reappear in different styles. The dada movement bridged the gap between still life painting and sculpture, by creating compositions of inanimate and redundant objects, arguably sparking the beginning of the post-modern era by closing the gap between art and daily life. Additionally, commercial and popular culture lead to the rise of Pop Art, where artists exalted banal items and in doing so reformed the status of still life art. Andy Warhol’s infamous Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) demonstrates how Pop Art artists used the still life genre to offer a tongue-in-cheek commentary about culture.

Contemporary Still Life Artists

Rise Art’s diverse collection reflects the evolution and continuation of this genre, whereby each artist draws inspiration from its long history.

Andrew McNeile Jones’ beautifully finished still life paintings hark back to the Dutch tradition, by composing scenes that reflect British culture. Strawberries and Copper Sugar Bowl (2018) represents a simple tradition and conveys Jones’ nationality through the language of food. Additionally, Jones’ use of light and shadow creates striking images whereby the dark background illuminate his objects, elevating their beauty and intensifying his use of colour.

Viacheslav Rogin opts for the traditional subject matter of fruits and household items. While his compositions are simple, his treatment of light and space elevates these items to be something of intrigue and beauty. His use of contrasting colours and rough application of paint accentuates the surface texture of the canvas in Mediterranean Evening (2017), cloaking the painting in a soft hue and allowing one to imagine a hot day fading into a cool Mediterranean evening.

Dawn Beckles’ vibrant paintings play with the relationship between an object, its environment and its owner. In After We Sat (2019), Beckles’ beautifully detailed interior is absent of human life, yet the popping colour and personal objects allow the viewer to imagine the room full of life and history. Additionally, Beckles draws on her Barbadian background by opting for bright colours and depicting exotic flowers and birds.

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