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Still Life Paintings

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At Carré d'artistes, discover contemporary paintings which renew the forms, the colours and the usual compositions of this theme. A still life is a particular kind of painting: it represents inanimate elements whose arrangement is defined by the artist. This theme was very popular in the history of painting from the 17th to the 20th century. 

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Why buy a still life painting?

Let yourself be seduced by musical instruments, mirrors, but also fruits and flowers, the modern still life painting is without doubt an ideal gift. 

The painting transmits emotion and simplicity, you will be transported in an authentic world, the vanity of these paintings bring warmth to your interior decoration.

What are the elements represented in still life paintings?
A still life painting is a pictorial art genre that represents inanimate elements of nature such as fruit and flowers, but also dead objects and animals.

Characteristics of still life painting

What are the characteristics of a contemporary still life painting?

The representation of a group of inanimate objects is the subject of the painting: the way in which each element is arranged in relation to the others and the way in which they interact with each other defines the charm and beauty of these paintings. 

Often these paintings are related to food or tableware, but not only: there are also still lifes depicting other types of everyday objects, of a particular job for example, or paintings of flower pots, like Van Gogh's Sunflowers. The possibility of composition is infinite. There is a very intimate, confidential dimension to these paintings, and a profound silence that comes from the stillness of the objects depicted. 

Definition of Still Life 

A still life is a painting that depicts inert objects belonging to the kingdom of nature or products of human industry. Other terms are or have been used for this theme: silent life, restful nature or inanimate nature.


The term "still life" appeared in France in the 18th century. Before that, the term "cose naturali" (natural things) was used to designate this type of painting. 

In ancient times, the art of mimicry, of pure reproduction, was very important: it was necessary to reproduce things according to reality, as faithfully as possible. In the Middle Ages, there is almost no trace of still life paintings. The era turned more towards symbolism, allegory and paintings were reserved for religion. 

It was in the 17th century that paintings of objects took on an important role. The genre developed rapidly, particularly in the North, in Holland and Flanders, which created two distinct schools: the Dutch school and the Flemish school. 

The first is a bourgeois painting, of small format, with few objects represented; the second is also bourgeois, with an accumulation of objects on large formats, whose moral is that of the vanity of life. Still lifes developed throughout Europe, particularly in France and Spain, which were the other two schools of still life painting. 

Still life has often been considered a minor genre, as opposed to history or portrait painting, but over time it has evolved. 

This theme is the most complex in the history of painting because it pushes painters to study objects and the environment in which they evolve at length. Over the centuries, the object becomes an accessory, then a symbol (vanity) to become a main subject in its own right where aesthetics takes precedence over its simple representation.

What was the golden age of still life painting in Europe?

It was in the 17th century in the northern countries where three themes emerged: served tables, flowers and vanities

Meaning of the objects 


  • The crab represents resurrection, shedding its shell in the spring to take on a new one. The crab and the lobster can also symbolise inconstancy and instability because of their characteristic gait, which makes them move backwards.
  • Fruits, vegetables and game illustrate the reckless abuse of sensual pleasures.
  • The lemon peel, peeled in a spiral, may represent the course of earthly life, during which the individual frees his or her spirit from its material envelope, to arrive at the pulp of the spiritual essence.
  • The grape is a symbol of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Presented as the origin of wine, it is associated with the blood of Christ. 
  • The cut roses and the overturned cup represent youth struck down.
  • The hourglass and the glass half-filled with water invoke the inexorable flow of life. 


Still life painters 

Still life with apples and oranges by Paul Cézanne (1895-1900).
Caravaggio was the first great painter to paint still lifes with fruit in 1599
Jean Siméon Chardin (The Stingray)

There was little renewal of the genre in the 19th century, even if the paintings of Delacroix, for example, or Goya, are unpublished. But it was above all Cézanne who renewed the genre with his new spirit and his colourful brush. He initiated a new path, which the greatest artists of the 20th century, such as Picasso and Dali, would take up. 

At Carré d'artistes, discover contemporary still life paintings, such as Pascal Lionnet and Laurent Bergues, who explore the possibilities and revive the symbolic and aesthetic power of this type of painting. 

Discover our selections of modern still life paintings thanks to our numerous still life painters!

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