Still Life is a genre which gained prominence in Western Art by the late 16th century and has remained an important genre since then. Still Lifes are categorized by the depiction of ordinary objects which may be natural, like flowers, fruits etc. or man-made, like glasses, musical instruments etc. Here is a list of the 10 most famous still life paintings by renowned artists of the genre including Chardin, Paul Cezanne, Van Gogh and Giorgio Morandi.
#10 Still Life Series
Artist: Tom Wesselmann
Pop Art Movement emerged in the 1950s and it used recognizable imagery from popular culture. Among the most popular works in pop art is Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life series. His still lifes portray elements of the modern world rather that the fruits and vegetables of previous generation artists of the genre. This work (Still Life #30) is a combination of painting, sculpture and collage of commercial labels Tom found on the street.
#9 Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball
Artist: Pieter Claesz
Active during the Dutch Golden Age, Pieter Claesz was among the foremost still-life painters of his time. He is famous for vanitas or still lifes which contain symbols of death or change as a reminder of their inevitability. This is his most famous painting. It depicts a plethora of objects most interestingly a glass sphere in the background which shows Claesz at the easel, serving as a self-portrait.
#8 Basket of Fruit
Year: c. 1599
Caravaggio was a pioneer of realistic depiction and dramatic use of lighting in paintings. He applied his naturalism to still life and hence Basket of Fruit stands out from previous paintings in the genre. Apart from its apparently photographic portrayal, the painting is noted for the spoiled fruits which appear to have been eaten by insects. Whether the master painted what was available or was he trying to convey a deeper meaning is debated.
#7 Natura Morta (Still Life)
Artist: Giorgio Morandi
Giorgio Morandi was the leading still life painter of the twentieth century and among the greatest Italian artists of his era. His still lifes are known for their unsophisticated subject matter, muted colors and simplicity of execution. Marandi used the same title Natura Morta, which is the Italian term for still life, for all his works in the genre. The above painting is one of his many famous works known for their poetic quality and intensity.
#6 The Basket of Apples
Artist: Paul Cezanne
Apart from a brief period in 17th century Northern Europe, still life was a neglected genre despite the efforts of Jean-Baptiste Chardin. It was Paul Cezanne who almost single handedly took it to heights that it became a popular subject for future artists including Picasso, Matisse, Morandi and Braque. This painting is a shining example of his artwork in which he used techniques like two viewpoints which were to change the direction of art. The painting is also noted for its unbalanced parts like the titled bottle, inclined basket and the fruits which are about to fall.
#5 Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose
Artist: Francisco de Zurbaran
Francisco de Zurbaran is more famous for his religious paintings but he was also one of the most influential still life painters. This painting is considered a masterwork of the genre and is the only canvas ever signed and dated by the Spanish master. The three objects in the painting are placed carefully and illuminate against a dark background. It is widely believed that the painting has religious symbolism.
#4 The Ray (La raie)
Artist: Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
Considered an all-time great in still life painting, Jean-Baptiste Chardin is credited with advancing still life such that it would challenge other established genres. The Ray was his masterpiece through which he allured the future generations of artists to still life painting. The painting contains several novel elements most prominently the introduction of a living being in the form of a cat. It was widely studied, admired and copied by future artists including Henri Matisse.
#3 Violin and Candlestick
Artist: Georges Braque
Georges Braque, along with Picasso, co-founded the dominant art style of the twentieth century, Cubism. Although he began with landscapes, he shifted to still lifes later. This masterpiece is an example of Analytic Cubism, the first phase of Cubism which was short but influential. The elements in the painting are depicted in simple forms using multiple point-perspectives and it is painted in monochromatic style, i.e. different tones of a single color are used.
#2 Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier
Artist: Paul Cezanne
Paul Cezanne is considered the greatest master of still life painting and this work is his most celebrated painting in the genre. Technically it is noted for the double perspective which Cezanne’s creates while visually it captivates the viewer with the beautifully painted unbalanced parts. Cezanne’s paintings of this type are considered a prelude to several art types of the twentieth century including Picasso’s Cubism. As of 2105, this painting is the most expensive still life ever sold at an auction.
#1 Sunflowers Series
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is considered a master of still life paintings and his series of paintings on ‘sunflowers’ rank among the most famous still life paintings ever created. The paintings are well known for depicting the natural beauty of the flowers and for their vibrant colors. The above painting which is titled Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers smashed the auction record for a painting when it was sold to a Japanese investor for almost $40 million in March 1987.