Part 2 Research: Still Life Genre

This is such a huge research area that I feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start.

I have decided to simply pick artworks from the suggested periods that catch my eye and study them on an individual basis.

Jacopo de Barbari – Still Life with Partridge and Iron Gloves 1504


This is said to be one of the earliest examples of still life. De Barbari was an Italian painter and this was painted in the trompe l’oeil style which I have discovered whilst doing this research and have come to love (see later.) The painting is oil on panel and is almost photo realistic. You can see the reflection of light on the gauntlets and the incredible detail for example the fleur de lis on the arrow and the chain mail on the gloves.

For me it is the gauntlets that hold my attention, the partridge is is secondary and I found that I wasn’t really interested in studying it.

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio – Fruit Basket 1595-1596

Caravaggio basket-of-fruit-1596

This is a beautifully detailed Oil on Canvas by another Italian artist. I love the way the basket of fruit sits squarely at the bottom of the frame and allows the background to fill nearly half of the composition. The leaves in the back of the basket are not so detailed but are depicted almost as a silhouette. The light shines off the grapes and apple and highlights the weave of the basket. An added interest is the apple. Caravaggio has chosen a damaged apple, you can imagine cutting into it and the inside will be rotten. It adds to the reality of the painting, at first glance the picture is perfect but on closer inspection not everything in the basket is.

I have noticed that the first two pictures I have chosen are from Italian artist (although I should be researching Dutch 16th and 17th century painters) and both have a similar light beige background to their composition and the colour tones are very autumnal.

Jan Davidsz de Heem – Vase of Flowers 1660


Jan Davidsz de Heem – Still life with books and a violin, 1628

Jan Davidsz de Heem - Still life with books and a violin, 1628

A Dutch artist, I picked both of these pictures by the same artist as I love both of them but they are very different to each other.

The Vase of Flowers, Oil on Canvas. Once again, on first glance seems like a very opulent and detailed painting of a beautiful arrangement of flowers. The reds and blues complement each other and stand out against the dark background and each petal is painstakingly reproduced. It is only when you look closer at the painting that you see the ‘uglier’ side, the ants crawling over the flowers, the snail about to chomp into the leaves, the gecko about to pounce on the spider. But again there are the tiny touches of beauty, the delicate flowers around the vase and the reflection of the large window on the vase. I feel like I could look at this painting for hours and still find something new hidden in its depths.

Still life with Books and a Violin, Oil on Panel. Jan Davidsz de Heem was famous for his richly coloured still life with flowers but his earlier works were usually paint in sepia tones. As a viewer I actually prefer this painting but I think that is my love of monochrome coming through. I love the way the light is depicted on the wrinkled corners of the pages of the books in the centre of the composition. The light is clearly indicated coming from the top left hand side, presumably from a high window. As a lover of books, this painting appeals, I can imagine rifling through the pages and I love the details, colour and style.

Rachel Ruysch – Still life with marigolds, morning glory, a passion flower and other assorted flowers, together with insects on a stone ledge

Dutch Artist, 1664–1750. Famous for her still life floral paintings with intricate details and vibrant colours on dark backgrounds. I have chosen this painting, an oil on canvas, for it’s slightly less ‘fussy’ and to my mind, more contemporary composition. The oranges and hints of blue complement each other and I particularly like the way the light shines off the white flower in the centre of the picture drawing the eye in. The petals in all of Ruysch’s painting were delicately portrayed.

Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts – The Reverse of a Framed Painting


Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts – Trompe L’Oeil with Studio Wall and Vanitas Still Life


I have always been aware of the term ‘trompe l’oeil’ but have never really paid much attention to its meaning. On doing the research for this part I have come across examples of these paintings and I love the concept. Hyper realistic pictures that ‘deceive the eye’ and make the object appear to stand out from the canvas.

This oil on canvas painting by Gysbrechts – Reverse of a Framed Painting (1670) caught my eye. I love the simplicity of the image, but the closer you look, you see many tiny details, the bent nails, the frayed edges of the canvas, the fine graining of the wood all of which help to increase the realistic illusion.

Gysbrechts also painted Vanitas still life, symbolising life, pleasure and death. These type of paintings often included skulls and flowers. His painting Trompe L’Oeil with Studio Wall and Vanitas Still Life (1668) includes the artists tools as well as the requisite skull all in the trompe l’oeil style. Again, I am drawn to the tiny details in the painting for example the way he has shown the knots in the wooden panels.

Paul Cezanne

Cezanne 1839-1906 was a french artist and post impressionist. His work is said to heavily influence the future Cubist movement.

I have chosen these two paintings to study for their contrasts. When researching my choices, I noticed that Cezanne often showed the table upon which the objects were arranged as can be seen here.  

still-life-with-green-pot-and-pewter-jug Cezanne

In the earlier work of the two, Still Life with Green Pot and Pewter Jug 1867-69, Cezanne uses the traditional dark background of the seventeenth century traditions. This painting seems to be much more than an exact interpretation of the objects. He is capturing more the mood and form of the objects than a fastidious copy of them. The tiny dots of white paint capture the reflections of light on the vases. The paint appears to be thickly applied, Cezanne was renowned for using small brush strokes and building up layers of paint. Although the background is dark, the painting has a less traditional feel.

Still life with open drawer Cezanne

Still Life with an Open Draw 1879

This canvas has a much larger colour palette. Again Cezanne concentrates on the form of the subjects, in this case the apples, instead of getting a realistic likeness. You can sense the freshness of the apples through the paint, brushstrokes and form that he uses. In this composition the traditional dark background has been abandoned in favour of an accurate and lighter depiction which uses a mirror as a secondary point of interest.

Edouard Manet – Still Life with Melon and Peaches 1866

Still Life with Melon and Peaches Edouard Manet

Manet, a French artist, has painted this still life with a less exact, more impressionistic style. I particularly like the glass in the background, with just a few strokes of his brush you get a sense of the light reflecting off the crystal glass. Manet has used a limited colour palette but there is a beautiful use of contrast of light and dark, the satin like tablecloth against the dark wood of the table.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Still Life: Flowers


In this painting the traditional dark background has been discarded and is replaced with highly decorated wallpaper. This is a very bright, joyous picture with the same tonal colours used to portray the flowers and vase in the background. Renoir has a loose style with very little exact detail but the overall effect is of a complex and visually satisfying picture.

Van Gogh – Still Life with Glass of Absinthe and a Carafe 1887

Still-Life-with-Absinthe Van Gogh

Whilst the most famous still life is probably Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in all their versions, I have chosen Still life with Absinthe to observe. Firstly the colours appeal to me and he has used very small brushstrokes, almost as if he is cross hatching with the paint to produce the shadows and reflections. I like the way he has portrayed the liquid in the carafe and the reflections off the table top, with just a few simple lines he has achieved the illusion that the table is a reflective surface. You can imagine sitting in the cafe looking out the window at the lamppost and passers-by.

Pablo Picasso – Nature Morte (Still Life) 1960

picasso Nature Morte (Still Life)

Picasso was the forerunner of Cubism, at a time when photography was developing and photographs would be the way forward to capture the exact image, Picasso developed a new approach to painting by dissecting the subject on paper and giving different viewpoints. There is an abstract and almost geometrical feel to these paintings.

Georges Braque – Still Life with Playing Cards 1913

still-life-with-playing-cards Braque

Braque was also an artist who experimented with geometrical patterns. Not being a massive fan of the genre I am struggling to really comment too much about these artworks, however this painting, Still Life with Playing Cards by Braque has attracted my attention. Once again I like the monochromatic style.

The following still life works by contemporary artists were all displayed in Nature Morte Contemporary Still Life Exhibition at Guildhall Art Gallery and I was lucky enough to visit the exhibition on 23rd February 2018 (See Section on Exhibitions). There were a number of paintings, drawings, Videos and sculptures all showing various still life compositions, however I have chosen three paintings that stood out for me although there were many more I also enjoyed. All photographs were all taken at this exhibition.

Rebecca Scott The Perfect Hostess 2006

This is a wonderful painting which I sat and studied for a long time. Scott paints with bold brushstrokes; the objects are slightly haphazard on the table and the reflections through and off the glasses are stunning. The area of the picture that most held my attention is the knives. It is only on closer inspection that you can see the way the paint has been applied to create the shiny surface.

James White – Raid 2013

This was without doubt my favourite painting in the whole exhibition. Oil and varnish on acrylic sheet. From a distance I was convinced it was a black and white photograph and even close up it is very difficult to tell. I love the photo-realistic quality and monochrome palette. The painting has a modern feel with everyday objects simply sitting on the shelf.

Cindy Wright – Nature Morte 2 2010

Cindy Wright - Nature Morte 2

This painting shows a gutted salmon pushed into a cramped glass bowl. Wright used oil on linen. Again it is a very realistic image; although ugly in subject the painting is very beautiful. The reflections of the window cast light across the salmon’s face and silver skin. The top frilled edge of the glass is very delicately painted as are the scales on the fish and the doily the bowl is sitting on.

I have noticed that many of the artists in this exhibition have moved away from the abstract when presenting a still life painting, and indeed, as shown above, many have reverted back to a very representational and realistic style. It is the subjects themselves that have changed. Often shocking or ugly, sometimes very ordinary, it would appear that gone are the days where a vase of flowers or bowl of fruit will satisfy the artist, not unless they can do something extraordinary with it. See Ori Gersht – Big Bang;

…where the artist arranges a vase of flowers, very much like those shown in the 16th and 17th century paintings then blows it up.

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