In most large art museums, you’ll find entire rooms of still life paintings. I’ve never been too interested in them: scenes of fruit and flowers simply aren’t my thing. I can appreciate the mastery that goes into depicting an apple just so – but if you ask me which part of a museum I want to see, I’ll never go out of my way to visit the still life section.
A couple years ago I was walking around San Francisco and saw the still life pictured here. And for once, I actually got excited about a still life painting. Still life works depict everyday objects and beings, but this was the first one I’d seen that brought the practice squarely into the 21st century. This was the first still life that made me stop and pause, and do more than just appreciate the artistry. With this one, I took a few minutes to think about society, my life, and the types of objects I’d put in my own still life. I’d venture to guess that many people’s versions would include technology of some sort, but I think mine would be a mix of food and books.
Let’s take a look at one more painting, shall we? The painting shown here is from the Netherlands. I took this photo while visiting the Amstelkring Museum in Amsterdam. The Amstelkring Museum is located along one of Amsterdam’s canals and provides a peek into the sociocultural life of 17th century Amsterdam. The house’s rooms are made up with period furniture and decor. Even more interesting is the church “hidden” in the building’s attic – a vestige from 16th century Roman Catholics who had to worship in secret. The painting shown here was taken somewhere within the main house. The only reason I even took the picture was because I liked the Dutch tradition of gifting someone their initials made out of chocolate (those letters on the righthand side of the painting). But now, as I compare this painting to the one above, I realize that this still life is actually just as interesting. It may not show my world, but it certainly gives us a nice glimpse into a specific point in time. It doesn’t make me giggle, as a painting of gingersnaps did, but it does make me want to learn more about the meal that inspired the painting and who would have eaten it.
I’m not promising to suddenly love still life paintings. But I do vow to give them greater consideration the next time I’m at an art museum.
If you were to paint a still life of your everyday world – what would be in it?