The art of still life
painting is a time-honored one that has been around since at least the time of
the ancient Egyptians. Still life paintings were often used to adorn the
interiors of Egyptian tombs with the belief that these depictions of food and
other objects would actually become real and available for use by the deceased
in the afterlife. The ancient Romans adorned their homes with paintings and
mosaics of food and flowers, which functioned as signs of hospitality and as
celebrations of the seasons and of life. Down through the long course of
history, still life painting has frequently been used to convey allegorical or
metaphorical messages, often as part of a religious iconography. Among the
first still life artists to divest their paintings of religious meaning were Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht
Durer, who made delightful studies of flora and fauna as part of their interest
in exploring the natural world.
|Lilacs in a Window by Mary Cassatt, 1880-1883, oil on canvas.
term, "still life," is derived from the Dutch equivalent "stilleven." Romance languages used the term, "dead nature" as in the French "nature
morte." As the
popularity of still life painting spread throughout Europe, stylistic differences developed between northern European art and that created in the south. The Flemish
and Dutch tended to paint in a hyper-realistic style, while southern
artists favored the softer naturalism of Caravaggio. Over time, many genres and
sub-genres of still life art evolved, gained popularity and faded away to be
replaced with the new preoccupations within the genre. The French artists of the 1700s, most notably Jean
Baptiste Simeon Chardin, were adept at borrowing from both the northern and
southern traditions to make an entirely new type of still life artwork, which would
eventually influence future generations of painters. Manet, Matisse, Cezanne,
Braque, Soutine, Morandi and recently, Lucian Freud, all acknowledged their
indebtedness to Chardin in their work.
dawning of Impressionist still life, allegorical and mythological content was
completely dropped, as was meticulously detailed brush work. Impressionists
instead focused on experimentation in broad, dabbing brush strokes, tonal
values, and color placement. The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists were
inspired by nature's color schemes but reinterpreted nature with their own
color harmonies, which sometimes proved startlingly unnaturalistic. As Gauguin
stated, "Colors have their
Today, there is
renewed interest in beautifully executed representational still lifes, the best
of which, we think, borrow from the masters of the past while adding a contemporary
sensibility to the work.
article, The Ultimate Still Life Table shows how to construct an inexpensive, professional
still life table. The table is the first step in creating a unique microcosm
from objects that have interest and meaning for you. It also illustrates how to
use both natural and artificial light sources to create dramatic and exciting
compositions with low-cost fixtures, templates and color filters. Whether your
goal is to create small daily paintings or larger studio masterpieces, building
a permanent set-up like this opens the door to a world of creative expression
in anyone's studio space, large or small.
For more interesting in-depth articles,
demonstrations and valuable information, please join us on The Artist's Road.
--John & Ann