The word still life comes from the Dutch word ‘stilleven’ still life is basically a compostiton comprising of man made or natural objects juxtaposed on a surface often a table.
Although still life as a genre dates from around 1650 it can be found much earlier in ancient art- the Egyptians painted objects and food items as an offering for their gods in the afterlife.
The golden age of still life painting seemed to occur in Northern Europe during the seventeenth century. As a genre it dominates much of the work of Flemish and Dutch artists. Many of these paintings included flowers and fruit painted in minute detail.A popular theme that reoccurs is the inclusion of a number of symbolic items such as skulls, musical instruments , books and maps to represent wealth, power and the inevitability of death. This style of still life painting is called ‘vanitas’.
From the eighteenth century until 1945 France became the centre of still life art. ‘Nature monte ‘ meaning dead nature. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many artistic movements such as post-Impressionism and the cubists produced still life art. Cezanne, Matisse, Bonnard, Van Gogt, Braque and Picasso all produced still life paintings. The post- impressionists used bright colours and patterns to produce decorative works often painting elaborate flowers and fruit.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s artists belonging to the pop art movement used the genre in a very commercial way producing work very much influenced by postwar popular culture. One of the most famous set of images belonging to pop art are Andy Warhols ‘Campbell soup can’s series 1962. The series comprises of 32 canvases each measuring 20×16 inches ( 50×40.6 cms). They almost have a flat graphic quality similar to a print making process. Warhol started his artistic career as a printmaker.
Today’s contemporary artists still explore still life as a genre but often using different media and materials. Prunella Clough during the 1990’s used discarded and found objects which she called ‘urban chaos’. Photographer Sharon Core produces elaborate work to replicate still life paintings of early artists including her work entitled ‘1665’ the composition uses fruit and flowers to signal imminent death. Another contemporary photographer Darren Jones in his 2011 picutre called ‘ a time and a place’ has gathered together a collection of personal objects including an asthma inhaler and toothpaste .
Kim Kira in his 2008 oil painting called ‘a contemporary still life with one dollar’ uses a range of uneaten fast food, empty food Cartons and cola bottles painted in a photo realistic style which reminds me of the commercial art produced by the Pop art movement.
in reflection after looking at still life in art it seems to me immediately evident that as a genre is plays a very important part in art history – that has and continues to influence artists – beginning with the simplistic and crude painting by the Egyptians to the rich and highly ornate and symbolic Paintings of the seventeenth and eighteenth century – to the decorative And colourful nineteenth and twentieth century paintings. Moving on to the influence of popular culture and advertising of the postwar years. Today still life still remains a popular theme and although mediums and techniques have changed and evolved in many ways the elements used by artists throughout art history have remained the same – as a genre it still is used to tell the onlooker a story whether to representive wealth , culture , death or to tell a topical story. Essentially still life tells the narrative history or story of the selected object either manufactured or natural. I feel that although traditions and materials have moved on in terms of composition and subject matter intrepation remains essentially unchanged in that the aim of the artist seems still to produce a piece of art that explores, line, light , tone , structure and form using an object.
http://www.timetrips.co.uk/still_life history htm