Still life - a popular genre of painting

Still life - a popular genre of painting

Still life is one of the genres of fine art with a number of subgenres. Its peculiarity lies in the fact that the figures of the first plan of works are represented by the most mundane - inanimate objects. On the canvas can be present and living creatures - representatives of the fauna and people, but they are assigned second roles - they are only an addition to the plot.

The term has a French origin: in translation nature morte - "dead nature". The English-language analogue of the name of this direction is still life (“still life”).

According to art historians, still lifes and landscapes to the greatest extent reveal the inner world of the painter, the essence of his ideas about the universe and the connections of all living and nonliving things that exist in the Universe. The genius of the masters of these two genres lies in the fact that on the canvases the viewer admires the beauty of that which in ordinary circumstances does not even pay attention. For example, how harmoniously fruits of different types created by nature in the shades of the same color scheme can be harmoniously combined in one vase, or how picturesque the motionless stone rock is against the background of the surface of a reservoir, the depths of which are inhabited by underwater inhabitants and plants.

From the history

As a separate genre, still life stood out in the 17th century. In the XV – XVI centuries. he was not yet a full-fledged easel art. Then everyday objects were secondary in general compositions. Images of individual inanimate objects were used only as elements of interior decor.

Although the discovered cave paintings and the paintings of unknown artists of the past, which have survived to this day, depicting objects belong to ancient times. An example is the painting in the temples and tombs of the ancient Egyptians with scenes of the offering of inanimate objects to the gods adorning them as gifts. These images are as realistic as possible, all elements are drawn clearly up to cracks and chips - the purpose of all objects is immediately clear and it is clear how often they were used in everyday life.

Ancient Greek and Roman antique masters also painted inanimate objects in detail: this can be seen in mosaics and wall paintings - both in public places and in residential interiors, on decorative images decorating furniture, vases, kitchen utensils. At the same time, the painters strove to convey the slightest nuances of color, all shades: fruits, flowers, animals looked absolutely natural.

And in the XVII century, still life begins to be considered by painters as an independent genre. The Netherlands became the first - in the art criticism environment they are called "Small Dutch". The most famous were the works of the following masters from the Netherlands:

  • Balthazar van der Asta;
  • Willem van Alst;
  • Willem Kalf;
  • Willem Klas Head;
  • Peter Klas;
  • Jan van Huysum.

Subgenres of Still Life Painting

Dutch artists fiercely competed with each other, so each of them tried to bring their skills to perfection. To make their own works stand out from the rest, they had to turn to a narrow subject, which led to the appearance of the following subgenres in a still life:

  • flower - a reflection of the passion for floriculture throughout Holland;
  • flower and fruit - these paintings were in special demand in the second half of the 17th century, when secular receptions came into fashion, part of which were indispensable feasts with wines and light snacks;
  • tonal - paints in pictures of muffled tones, prevailing shades of brown and gray;
  • luxurious - evidence of the desire of the bourgeois stratum of society not just for prosperity, but for ostentatious wealth;
  • kitchen - on canvases, in addition to inanimate objects, everyday scenes from the life of a simple people are depicted;
  • fish - tribute to Dutch fishermen and sailors;
  • hunting - carcasses of game are present in the paintings (this was in demand among wealthy burghers who were fond of hunting);
  • “Table setting” (or “breakfasts” and “banquets”) - canvases depict traditional local products and delicacies;
  • "Trompe l'oeil" - it seems to the person who is looking at the picture that the image is three-dimensional: all the details are so skillfully drawn;
  • Vanitas (translated from Latin - “vanity”) - images of objects reminiscent of mortal (candles, wilted flowers, spoiled fruits) around the compositional center - usually a human skull.

The end of the XIX and the beginning of the XX centuries brought new opportunities to the art of still life - painters of different directions became bolder, began to experiment. Elements of the genre appeared on the canvases of masters:

  • impressionism;
  • expressionism;
  • surrealism;
  • Cubism
  • abstractionism;
  • Fauvism.

French artists Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne resorted to still life elements in their works.

When the Second World War ended, representatives of modern trends at that time — photorealism, pop art and neo-pop — began to use the methods of still life. Still-life still has a future, of course, in our days - in the 21st century. They are back in fashion, as they successfully fit into many popular design styles.

Famous masters who worked in the genre of still life, and some of their bright works

There are a lot of artists who write still lifes - only about three dozen of them belong to the “Small Dutch”. To make an idea of this type of painting, it is worth taking a look at the works of recognized masters:

  • Jan Brueghel Velvet - a pioneer of the direction, who specially visited the Botanical Garden in Brussels many times and made sketches there for future work;
  • Vincent van Gogh - the famous series “Sunflowers”, his brushes went to the best galleries in the world, the paintings are in the USA - in the expositions of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Germany - in the Pinakothek in Munich, in the UK - at the London National Gallery;
  • Floris van Dyck - to date, only four of his paintings have remained intact, the central place in the compositions is allotted to pieces of cheese, folded in a pyramid (subgenre of “served table”);
  • Abraham van Beyeren - master of the fish subgenre; it is amazing how detailed the scales are drawn, how realistic the strokes of silver paint look;
  • Jacob de Gein the Younger - he worked in the Vanitas subgenre, can be considered its founder - his first canvas was painted in 1603;
  • Salvador Dali - number one surrealist (an example is the sculpture “Telephone Lobster”);
  • Pablo Picasso - a subgenre of cubism;
  • Andy Warhol - a representative of pop art (Campbell Soup Cans Thundered Around the World).

Over the centuries, the still life has undergone significant changes more than once, and there are more and more subgenres in it.


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