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A Vibrant Collection of Still Life Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum

3 min read
A Vibrant Collection of Still Life Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum

Still life paintings are those which depict inanimate objects, typically arranged on a table. The term still life comes from the Dutch word for "table painting." Still life paintings were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, and often contained allegorical messages. The Metropolitan Museum has a wide variety of still life paintings, from those done in the Renaissance period to those done in more modern times. These paintings provide a look into the different ways artists have depicted inanimate objects over the centuries.


Dutch, Zundert 1853–1890 Auvers-sur-Oise / The Met

    In May 1890, just before he checked himself out of the asylum at Saint-Remy, Van Gogh painted four exuberant bouquets of spring flowers, the only still lifes of any ambition he had undertaken during his year long stay:two of irises, two of roses, in contrasting color schemes and formats.
    In the Museum's Irises he sought a "harmonious and soft" effect by placing the "violet" flowers against a "pink background," which have since faded due to his use of fugitive red pigments.
    Another work from this series, Roses (1993.400.5), hangs in the adjacent gallery.

Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses

French, Aix-en-Provence 1839–1906 Aix-en-Provence / The Met

    Cezanne rarely painted flowering plants or fresh-cut bouquets, which were susceptible to wilting under his protracted gaze.
    He included potted plants only in three still lifes, two views of the conservatory at Jas de Bouffan, his family's estate, and about a dozen exquisite watercolors made over the course of two decades (from about 1878 to 1906).
    Cézanne seems to have reserved this particular table, with its scalloped apron and distinctive bowed legs, for three of his finest still lifes of the 1890s.

Still Life with a Glass and Oysters

Dutch, Utrecht 1606–1683/84 Antwerp / The Met

    This still life was one of the first paintings acquired by The Met, part of the Founding Purchase of 1871.
    It combines some of the most frequent props of Dutch still life - a lemon peel, the type of glass known as a roemer, and oysters, which were believed at the time to have aphrodisiac properties.

The Brioche

French, Paris 1832–1883 Paris / The Met

    Manet reportedly called still life the "touchstone of the painter."
    From 1862 to 1870 he executed several large-scale tabletop scenes of fish and fruit, of which this is the last and most elaborate.
    It was inspired by the donation to the Louvre of a painting of a brioche by Jean Siméon Chardin, the eighteenth-century French master of still life.
    Like Chardin, Manet surrounded the buttery bread with things to stimulate the senses - a brilliant white napkin, soft peaches, glistening plums, a polished knife, a bright red box - and, in traditional fashion, topped the brioche with a fragrant flower.

A Vase with Flowers

Dutch, Delft ca. 1584–1641 Delft / The Met

    The Delft painter Jacob Vosmaer was an early if not pioneering specialist in the painting of flower pictures, which often depict rare specimens known to the artists solely from illustrated books.
    At some time before 1870 this panel was trimmed on the sides and cut down (about nine inches) at the top, cropping the crown imperial.
    The painting is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vanitas Still Life

Netherlandish, Antwerp 1565–1629 The Hague / The Met

    This panel is generally considered to be the earliest known independent still-life painting of a vanitas subject, or symbolic depiction of human vanity.
    The skull, large bubble, cut flowers, and smoking urn refer to the brevity of life, while images floating in the bubble - such as a wheel of torture and a leper's rattle - refer to human folly.
    The figures flanking the arch above are Democritus and Heraclitus, the laughing and weeping philosophers of ancient Greece.

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