What is Still Life Art?

“Still life is the touchstone of the painter”

– Édouard Manet

What is Still Life Art?

Defined as a collection of inanimate objects, usually organic objects like fruits and flowers and household items like glassware and textiles, arranged in a specific way, still life has been a popular genre of art across movements, cultures, and periods. Still life provides the artist with new and/or different perspectives of looking at the ordinary objects around us. The focal point of the composition will also vary through the eyes of the artist. Still life is a very traditional translation of a three-dimensional subject onto a two-dimensional surface which is the canvas.

Still life emerged as an important art genre during the Dutch golden age. During that time, an increasingly wealthy middle class were keen to acquire and flaunt art, and that historical and religious paintings were not popular. As compared to portrait and landscape, still life was straightforward and affordable for artists to produce: they didn’t have to persuade or pay for a model and are able to draw inspiration from arranging and rearranging of the everyday objects around them.

Observation is an important skill when creating still life art, it is important to observe the size, scale, texture, and color of the objects. Through the establishment of highlights and shadows, artists are able to give the still life artwork a realist form. Still life provides learning opportunities for the artist to master basic fundamentals such as volume, tone, shape, and form.

Famous still life painters and artworks

The Basket of Apples (1895) by Paul Cezanne.                        Sunflowers Series (1888) by Vincent van Gogh.

Cézanne was a French artist and post-impressionist painter famous for his still life artworks. He was known as a master of perspective with his study of geometry in painting. In his study, he tried to distill naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials – the cone, the cube, the sphere, which is an important knowledge in still life art. He also made use of layers of color to build up surfaces, and to outline his forms for emphasis. In ‘Still Life with Apples‘, Cézanne worked to capture the full complexity of how our eyes take in the sights before us by focusing on the visual and physical qualities of the paint and canvas. He never aimed for illusionism which you can tell by the right drape of the bunched tablecloth appearing to be unfinished and certain areas of canvas being bare.

Another famous still life painter is Vincent van Gogh. While his initial still life artworks express a sombre mood, his still life artwork progressed by experimenting with color, light and techniques that he learned from several different modern artists before he moved on to other subjects. In ‘Sunflower Series’, you can see his brilliant use of color and simplicity.  Throughout the series, you can see his experimentation with colors where he used a variety of darker shades against a muted background to emphasise the life and natural qualities of the sunflowers.

Learn still life drawing and painting at Visual Arts Centre

At Visual Arts Centre, our art courses adopt an academy approach to art teaching and learning. Be it drawing and sketching or oil painting, you will first start with a still life piece where you will learn the foundations of fine art – forms, tones, and shades of colors. In our drawing and sketching class, you will be given access to various still life objects where you will learn the basic concept of proportion, composition, and shading. It is important to build up your foundation before composing a more challenging artwork like landscape and/or portrait. It is also an essential art foundation in painting, as you will need to sketch a basic structure of the artwork before using paint. Practicing still life art is also important in oil painting as it teaches you brushwork and techniques on how the texture and color of the oil paint emphasis and build the form and ‘realness’ of the still life artwork. The techniques help to translate a three-dimensional subject onto a two-dimensional surface. In our watercolor painting and acrylic painting class, composing still life art teaches you foundational techniques on brushwork, technique, the use of color, tone, and highlight. 

Here are some examples of still life artwork done by the students of VAC:


Explore still life painting and sketching with us! Check out our art courses here.