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Still life

Although at its heart a classic subject, the still life was the preferred approach of Cézanne, the artist who paved the way for art to enter its most modern phase. From Cubism to Hyperrealism via Pop art, sculpture, and photography, almost all art forms have been at some point shown that it is still possible to breathe new life into this age old theme.

Be it completely de-structured, funny, classic, or minimalist, the contemporary still life is far from old fashioned, despite the fact that it boasts a long, celebrated history.

Let's take a closer look at this theme that recurs so often across art history… even in antiquity, Pliny had already written about a painter called Piraikos, known for his paintings of 'provisions for cooking', and the optical illusions of Zeuxis, from which it was said that birds would try to pick off the raisins because they looked so real. The conventional still life as we know it today, however, dates back to the 17th century, where it developed in Holland under strict aesthetic codes.

Generally, oils on canvas were the preferred method for representing inanimate objects of varying types (lots of fruit, fish, game…) and flowers. The colours were muted, the background a monochromic black, the atmosphere heavy, and the light at a steep diagonal angle. There were few elements but they were precisely arranged and loaded with religious symbolism.

Even though still life was never considered a genre in its own right, almost all of the great masters have tried their hand at it at some point or other. Across the 19th century, all the art movements went through a still life phase: romanticism, impressionism, symbolism… and under the brushes of Degas, Cézanne, Monet, etc., still life evolved.

Little by little, artists added colours, erased the biblical references and replaced them with everyday objects in ever greater numbers: cooking utensils, cups of coffee, gas lamps, musical instruments…

In the 20th century, modern art once more dusted off this 'boring' subject, and began to play with its strict codes. From cubism to pop art to surrealism, all of the artistic movements made their mark on still life. Bit by bit, they took it to pieces and rebuilt it, moving ever closer to the contemporary still life, which has little to do with the original genre except for its central theme.

After his separation from Olga Khokhlova in 1936, Pablo Picasso painted 'Still Life Under a Lamp' whose plastic elements suggested themes that would later be developed in his famous 'Guernica' the following year. Pale lamplight dominates the triangular composition in the centre of the canvas and the arms of the antique sculpture appear to be on the verge of falling off the table. Although the piece altogether seems to move away from the classic still life, it maintains the traditional heavy atmosphere.  

In 1956 the Catalan surrealist painter Salvador Dali painted 'Living Still Life' in his typical humorous style. The canvas – divided in two to represent night and day – shows a table on a balcony. The elements (wine, water, a pear, a knife…) are in motion, or rather levitating, as though someone has just struck the tabletop.

Artsper invites you to explore a range of contemporary still life pieces that are both traditional and surprising in our unique selection. Discover the work of Syvie Andlauer Baruch, Gonzalo Sicre, Zbigniew Wozniak, and many more… 

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Dialogue with Dionysus, Marco Fariello

Dialogue with Dionysus

Marco Fariello

Fine Art Drawings - 23.6 x 19.7 x 0 inch


Still life with vase and fruit, Marco Fariello

Still life with vase and fruit

Marco Fariello

Painting - 15.7 x 19.7 x 0 inch


Cordées 01 - diptyque, Teddy Peix

Cordées 01 - diptyque

Teddy Peix

Photography - 14.6 x 19.9 inch


Sphere of Life, #2238, Mixed-Media Collage, Natasha Zupan

Sphere of Life, #2238, Mixed-Media Collage

Natasha Zupan

Photography - 21.25 x 17.32 x 1 inch


Ton Orchidée Rose, Noël Granger

Ton Orchidée Rose

Noël Granger

Fine Art Drawings - 8.7 x 12.2 inch

£82 £78

Things aren't always what they seem, On Hansen

Things aren't always what they seem

On Hansen

Photography - 27.2 x 39.4 x 0.1 inch


Charming Snakes Ceramic Vase, Alex Hodge

Charming Snakes Ceramic Vase

Alex Hodge

Sculpture - 7 x 4.5 x 2 inch

£806 £726

Petit Dejeuner (Framed Contemporary Abstract Painting), Guy Lyman

Petit Dejeuner (Framed Contemporary Abstract Painting)

Guy Lyman

Painting - 23 x 23 x 1 inch


Shall we cook gazpacho for dinner?, Maria Meltsaeva

Shall we cook gazpacho for dinner?

Maria Meltsaeva

Painting - 19.7 x 11.8 x 0.8 inch


Red dog, Jungle

Red dog


Painting - 27.6 x 19.7 x 0.4 inch


Still Life with The Waren Cup 2, Zoltan Gerliczki

Still Life with The Waren Cup 2

Zoltan Gerliczki

Photography - 31.5 x 25.5 x 0.1 inch


Limones. From "Bodegon" Series, Dora Franco

Limones. From "Bodegon" Series

Dora Franco

Photography - 20.9 x 31.5 x 0.1 inch


Marine à l'aube d'une nouvelle journée, Jacques Gorde

Marine à l'aube d'une nouvelle journée

Jacques Gorde

Painting - 18.1 x 21.7 x 1.2 inch


Still Life with Vase of Flowers, Artur Murle

Still Life with Vase of Flowers

Artur Murle

Painting - 22 x 29.9 x 0.1 inch