Types of Still Life Art

By Ron Augustine

In the art world, a still life is defined when it contains a subject that doesn't move (or holds still). The history of still life art goes back thousands of years, and different periods make for different styles of still life. But from the earliest still life paintings to the most recent, the most popular subject is fruit.

Ancient Antecedents

Still lifes have been around since ancient Egypt. The earliest still lifes were created in the Egyptian tombs. Ancient Greeks also had still lifes on their walls and vases. The objects found in ancient still lifes were typically bowls of fruit (bowls of fruit are still considered popular in still lifes even today). The ancient still life paintings were admired for their realism.

Middle Ages/Renaissance

Oil painting became possible in the 1600s, thus enabling still life paintings to be even more realistic than before. Most still lifes were concerned with religious objects and iconography at this time; that is, until Leonardo Da Vinci started to experiment with fruit again. Flowers also became popular subjects for still life paintings during this time as well.

16th to 19th Centuries

After the Renaissance, artists became more interested in the natural world. The result in still life paintings was the inclusion of objects like shells and insects. Still life paintings became less religiously inclined, especially as Protestantism grew in Europe. By the 18th century, still lifes were almost entirely devoid of symbolism and were merely appreciated for the realism and detail they exhibited. In the 19th century, expressionist still life became popular thanks to the work of Claude Monet. Vincent Van Gogh contributed greatly to the post-impressionist still life world.

Modern

The 20th century heralded the abstract and asymmetrical style of still life. Thanks to the modern art movement with artists like Pablo Picasso and M. C. Escher at the helm, still life painting took a sharp turn away from realism into the surreal. Toward the middle of the century, Andy Warhol revolutionized the still life by displaying objects as mass-produced pop iconography. One of his most famous works is a lone can of Campbell's soup.

Digital

The end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century has brought a digital take on the still life. Less still lifes are actually painted now and are instead created on computers. These can vary greatly in appearance, either as completely realistic or incredibly abstract. Still lifes today may be considered postmodern works of art.

About the Author

Ron Augustine is a rookie freelance writer and producer who has worked primarily in radio and print media for Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions, Relevant Magazine, WMBI Chicago and the Burnside Writers Collective. He graduated Moody College in 2007 with a degree in Communications.