Art Term

Still life

One of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead

Paul Cézanne, ‘Still Life with Water Jug’ c.1892–3
Paul Cézanne
Still Life with Water Jug c.1892–3
Tate

Still life includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on. Still life can be a celebration of material pleasures such as food and wine, or often a warning of the ephemerality of these pleasures and of the brevity of human life (see memento mori).

In the hierarchy of genres (or subject types) for art established in the seventeenth century by the French Academy, still life was ranked at the bottom – fifth after history painting, portraiture, genre painting (scenes of everyday life) and landscape. Still life and landscape were considered lowly because they did not involve human subject matter.

In modern art simple still life arrangements have often been used as a relatively neutral basis for formal experiment, for example by Paul Cézanne, the cubist painters and, later in the twentieth century, by Patrick Caulfield.

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SELECTED ARTISTS IN THE COLLECTION

Selected artworks in the collection

Still life at Tate

Tate Britain Exhibition

Patrick Caulfield

5 Jun – 1 Sep 2013
Tate Britain presents a survey exhibition of the celebrated British painter Patrick Caulfield. 4 June - 1 September 2013
Tate Liverpool Exhibition

Picasso: Peace and Freedom

21 Apr – 30 Aug 2010
Picasso: Peace and Freedom; past exhibition at Tate Liverpool
FREE
Tate Britain Exhibition

Paintings by Cézanne

29 Sep – 27 Oct 1954
Paintings by Cézanne: past Tate Britain exhibition
FREE