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

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 artworks in the collection

Still life at Tate

  • Tate Britain

    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 + RIBA North

    Picasso: Peace and Freedom

    21 Apr – 30 Aug 2010

    Picasso: Peace and Freedom; past exhibition at Tate Liverpool

  • Tate Britain

    Paintings by Cézanne

    29 Sep – 27 Oct 1954

    Paintings by Cézanne: past Tate Britain exhibition