A still life was not a particular genre of the West-European paintings
in the XV--XVI centuries. Painting separate objects, including fruit
and flowers, was intended to compliment composition of the scene.It
was only in the art of the XVII century that a still life was widely
spread as a particular type of a painting due to the growing interest
for the material world and its various specific forms.
Above all, this particular genre was also subdivided into several variations of a
still life. There were the so-called "breakfasts" with table settings
and food; still lives with trophies of hunting or fishing; and a whole
number of other still lives.
The most widely spread ones in the XVII
century, especially in the art of Flanders and Holland, were the still
lives with fruits and flowers. Here we present replicas of this
particular kind of still lives, painted by Flemish, Dutch, German,
French and Italian artists of the XVII--XX centuries.
The displayed range of exclusive examples allow us to see different peculiarities of
painting styles, nature and choice of subjects for different artists.
Jan Fyt, one of the main representatives of a Flemish still life, used
his typical integrity of coloration in "Fruits and a Parrot" (1645)
and managed to gently combine the polychromy of depicted objects with
the help of the light golden colour: the blue pattern of the household
faience and subdued green colour of the leaves, yellow and reddish
hues of the ripe and juicy fruits - peaches, grapes and pears. This
small painting is filled with cheerfulness which is typical of all
Flemish paintings and intended to praise gifts of the generous nature.
A little different tendency is revealed in the work of a Dutch artist
of the first half of the XVII century, Balthasar van der Ast. His
"Still Life with Fruit" is very close to the previous one in its
subject. Different fruit and flowers, positioned in seeming disorder,
are painted with great accuracy which communicates every shape, its
coloration and texture. Author's urge to make a close study of objects
and discover their diversity for the viewer come into the picture
In a much later "Still Life with Fruit" (1681), painted by Willem van
Aalst, one can see the increase of picturesque elements which was
typical of all Dutch paintings at the end of the XVII century: many
light spots of colour stand out effectively on the dark background of
the painting; big peaches and a large bunch of grapes are placed next
to a gilded vase of a bizarre shape.
Neat still lives with luxuriant bunches of flowers were painted in
Holland in the second half of the XVII century. Every leaf and petal
was depicted with exceptional accuracy in such paintings. Examples of
such paintings are "Flowers in a Vase" by Jan Davidsz de Heem, and
"Flowers" painted at the beginning of the XVI century by Jan van
These still lives are notable for their light colours and even
deeper attention to the smallest details (ants and flies on the
flowers; blades of grass and a bird's nest next to the vase).
The still life genre developed considerably (though less than in
Holland) in German art. The initiator of this genre in Germany was
Georg Flegel, who worked at the end of the XVI and the beginning of
the XVII centuries.
A great example of his works with the "dead
nature" is his "Still Life with Flowers and Snacks". It is
characterized by its clear, slightly hard pattern, emphasized
arrangement of the composition and author's attempt to understand the
objects philosophically by choosing and comparing them (food, required
to sustain a human life; flowers, being a pleasure to his/her eye; and
a sand glass, which reminds us about the transient time, and about the
perishable nature of our life on Earth).
Another example of a German still life, "Flowers in a Vase" by Abraham
Mignon, closely reminds us of Dutch paintings of the same genre
because the artist himself worked in Holland for the most part of his
life and experienced great influence of the Dutch painting style of
the second half of the XVII century.
Still lives are relatively rare in French art of the XVII century. All
the more it is interesting to note the decorative peculiarities and
picturesque skill of the painting called "Flowers and Fruit", created
by an unknown French artist who lived in the XVII century. The artist
placed few bright, colourful, big flowers and fruits on a brown
background in a very artistic way.
One of the exceptions in French painting at the beginning of the XIX
century, when classicism prevailed and imposed images of antique art,
was a modest and simple "Still Life with Apples" (1823), signed by L.
Barbier, whose artistic biography is still unknown.
"Flowers" (1856), created by a French artist Simon Saint-Jean, whose
specialty was painting such still lives, seems to be very well painted
at first sight. But as a matter of fact this superficial work is
created under the great influence of the undemanding public.
Henri Fantin-Latour was a famous French painter of the second half of
the XIX century. His small-sized painting "Bouquet of Flowers in a
Clay Vase" (1883) draws attention with its surprising freshness of
colours and ingenuousness of master's perception.
The still life genre plays an important part in the artistic work of
one of the most famous French artists, Paul Cezanne. In the early
period of his creative work he created his "Bunch of Flowers in a
Vase" (painted through 1873--1875), which already reflected master's
main goal: to achieve the highest completeness depicting material
objects without subduing the colours.
Cezanne came to a conclusion that shape should be conveyed through colour itself. For example, in
this painting the vase's volume is conveyed not through dull and gray
shades, but with the help of a whole range of blue hues. The
coloration of the flowers is also as delicately depicted. In Cezanne's
later, more mature work, called "Still Life with Drapery" (1898--1899),
one can see numerous colour transitions in every painted object. All
shapes are void of small details. They acquire substantial materiality
and generality of outline and volume. However, these unquestionable
artistic achievements lead to a certain loss of accuracy - it makes it
hard for the viewer to say which fruits exactly twinkle with yellow
and orange hues.
Henri Matisse, a great French artist, paid special attention to using
highly intensive coloration in his attempt to develop a new painting
language. His small early sketch "Vase of Sunflowers" (1890) indicates
that the young artist developed a free wide stroke which he used to
depict what he saw in nature fast and with confidence. The typical
painting for Matisse's painting style, which formed in the 1900-s, is
his "Bunch of Flowers" with its bright and loud colours which create a
happy and festive atmosphere.
This range of colour quests promoted creative works of Othon Friesz
("Flowers" (1910), with their partially subdued but still rich
coloration) and Charles Manguin (see "Flowers" (1915), with a simple
subject, but pleasant freshness of the colours).
A still life "Peonies" (1906) painted by a French painter Pierre
Girier, who was less significant than previously mentioned masters,
creates an impression of ornamental embroidery or a carpet with the
help of author's typical contrast color matching and an emphasized
Picasso, one of the greatest painters of the XX century, was the
creator of "Vase with Fruit" (1909), painted in a cubical manner.
Trying to expose plastic qualities of objects and their pure
geometrical shape, Picasso refused to use real accuracy to portray
The latest painting among the works of this genre is "Flowers" (1928),
painted by an Italian artist, Filippo De Pisis, who gained great
popularity for his still lives with light-coloured, subtle hues and
light, free strokes.