Still Life Paintings

Still life refers to the representation of objects, natural or manmade, through the medium of art. Still life can be a celebration of the objects depicted or even the short lifespan of these objects. Over time still life has adapted to the styles of the times, such as surrealism, cubism and realism.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) is considered a master of still life paintings. Initially inspired by the 17th century Dutch Masters his work included animals, fruit and vegetables in the 1730s he introduced kitchen utensils too. Afterwards he started to introduce people into his work too. His work documented the everyday life. By 1756 he returned to still life.

His work is simple, usually with a fairly dark background and all the objects and the light source comes from the same angle the viewer looks at. All of them looking across at the subject at eye height, as if you were sitting down looking at them.


Harmen van Steenwyck (1612-56) was a Dutch still life painter, taught by his uncle David Bailly. Steenwyck was one of the lead painters in the vanitas genre of Dutch Baroque art. This genre depicted objects in a still life form that showed Christian symbolic objects, each painting could be thought of a visual interpretation of a sermon.

Probably his most famous painting that clearly shows the symbolism behind this genre is the Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life. Each object has a high significance and message behind it, based on the gospel of Matthew 6:18-21. For example, the skull is there to remind people that we are all united by death, chronometer depicts the passing of time. Shell and silk earthly wealth and the books and musical instrument show the vanity of knowledge. Finally, the sword showing military power. The light in the image comes from a single beam mainly on the skull which shows the mortality of earth an immortality of heaven.

I feel like this is very similar to my work, choosing objects that have meaning behind them. For some reason I didn’t think about lighting also being a way to depict the message, for example in the Bloody Mary photograph I could darken the image to show the hazy morning after feel.


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