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Still Life
Still Life

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A still life is a work of art depicting a collection of usually inanimate objects, typically natural -- (flowers, game, sea shells and so on) -- or man-made domestic items -- (drinking glasses, foodstuffs, pipes, books and so on). Popular in Western art since the 17th century, still life paintings give the artist more leeway in the arrangement of design elements within a composition than do paintings of other types of subjects such as landscape or portraiture.

Still life came into its own in the new artistic climate of the Netherlands in the 17th century. While artists found limited opportunity to produce the religious art which had long been their staple (images of religious subjects were forbidden in the Dutch Reformed Protestant Church), the continuing Northern tradition of detailed realism and hidden symbols appealed to the growing Dutch middle classes, who were replacing Church and State as the principal patrons of art in the Netherlands. Especially popular in this period were vanitas paintings, in which sumptuous arrangements of fruit and flowers, or lavish banquet tables with fine silver and crystal, were accompanied by symbolic reminders of life's impermanence. The popularity of vanitas paintings, and of still life generally, soon spread from Holland to Flanders, Spain, and France.

It was not until the decline of the Academic hierarchy in Europe, and the rise of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, who emphasized technique and design over subject matter, that still life was once again avidly practiced by artists. Henri Fantin-Latour is known almost exclusively for his still lifes. Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" are some of the best known 19th century still life paintings, and Paul C├ęzanne found in still life the perfect vehicle for his revolutionary explorations in geometric spatial organization.

Artists in the United States, largely unburdened by Academic strictures on subject matter, had long found a ready market for still life painting. When 20th century American artists became aware of European Modernism, they began to interpret still life subjects with a combination of American Realism and Cubist-derived abstraction. Typical of the American still life works of this period are the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe, Stuart Davis, and Marsden Hartley, and the photographs of Edward Weston.

Much Pop Art is based on still life, but its true subject is most often the commodified image of the commercial product represented rather than the physical still life object itself. The rise of Photorealism in the 1970s reasserted illusionistic representation, while retaining some of Pop's message of the fusion of object, image, and commercial product. Typical in this regard are the paintings of Don Eddy and Ralph Goings. The works of Audrey Flack add to this mix an autobiographical Feminist message relating to cultural standards of female beauty. While they address contemporary themes, Flack's paintings often include trompe l'oeil and vanitas elements as well, thereby referencing the entire still life tradition.



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 Sergei Chernenko  Artist Gallery 


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