Still Life Paintings



Still life painting is an art genre that depicts the use of inanimate commonplace objects that can either be manmade (e.g. broken glasses) or natural (e.g. flowers). As compared to the other works of art, the still life paintings artists have the freedom to choose the position of the items on their paintingsß. Although some artists belittle the art genre, it is rich in culture, history visual aid, and style in the eyes of the viewer. These form the aspects and characteristics that make still life painting different from the other art genres. In order to understand the different aspects and characteristics of still life paintings, it is valuable to conduct an analysis by comparing and contrasting Still Life with Peaches, The Old Violin by William Harnett and Queen by Audrey Flack.

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Still Life with Peaches is one of the still life paintings discovered in the ancient. The artist to the painting is not known and it is extremely difficult to know any other works done by the artist of the painting. The painting was discovered in a room in Herculaneum (Knopp 144). Herculaneum is a small town in Italy that was burnt down by lava destroying most of the rich culture. However, some of its rich culture like painting survived the burning of the hot lava. In the room, the painting occupied a square like space among other forms of art arranged on a step (Knopp 144). The painting contains five unripe peaches, two cut off from the branch. One of the two peaches cut off from the branch is barely grown while the other one appears to be bitten off one part. The other three peaches are intact in the branch. On the front view of the painting, there is a glass jar full of water (Knopp 144). 

The painting is a two-dimension work of art where the viewers do not have the pleasure to observe the painting all round. Although it is a two-dimension painting, it is not limited to height and width. This is because the height of the branch and that of the glass can be seen in full while the objects fit comfortably the width of the picture (Knopp 144). The painter utilized different dark shades of red making it appear mild and wild. The green color of the peaches that indicates unripe means that the peaches are full of life young and vibrant. The glass jar full of water signifies an object full of life. When the different shades of dark red are combined with the green peaches, the viewer is able to observe a young life that is full of vigor as it grows up (Knopp 144). Even though the painting was done decades ago, it appears like it was done yesterday. 

Based on the visual art of the painting, the artist applies the classical art to real life. In this case, the painting is old, making it a classic but the use of realistic objects makes it modern (Knopp 144). Peaches are common fruits across the globe while the glass jar of water is a household item. It also indicates that the picture utilizes a westernized style of art so that it can consistently stay relevant throughout its time. The geographical location where the work of art was found speaks volumes about the history of the region. The use of peaches and the glass jar of water in the ancient times portray that the town particularly the homestead was wealthy (Knopp 144). Additionally, the ability of the room to protect the painting from the burning lava shows that the people of Herculaneum were well educated. Also, the materials they used prove that the region where they found the photo was wealthy.

The second still life painting is The Old Violin by William Harnett. Harnett drew the painting shortly after his return to America at around 1886 (Harnett 2008). At the time when the painting was done, many artists had not embraced the westernized form of art. During this time, Harnett utilized the use of classical illusions to lure his views to the piece of art (Harnett 2008). In the picture, there is a violin that appears to be hanged behind a hinged door, a flute, a letter, musical notes and a letter. Upon closer look, one can observe that the hinges of the door are rusty, the musical notes paper is slightly torn but the instrument appear to be extremely clean. 

The painting is a two-dimension form of art that utilizes well the height and the width. Even though the painting is a two-dimension, it appears to be like a three dimension painting. Harnett’s use of shadows and objects on top of the other makes the painting appear to be three dimensions yet it is two-dimensions (Harnett 2008). The painting also is not limited to height and width because one can see the full size of the door, the violin, and the flute. In the painting, the artist uses bright colors, the white color of the door but a bit dirty to signify that it is old, and the white color of the paper and on the letter (Harnett 2008). There is a light brown color of the violin and shiny silver color of the metals flute. This shows that the violin and the flute are clean.

According to the different visual art forms, the painting is a classical illusion that applies to real life. First, it is a classic painting it is old in nature considering the time it was painted. Secondly, the use of shadows and objects on top of the other to make it appear like a three dimension picture is a form of illusion (Harnett 2008). Thirdly, the use of personalized items (the letter, the violin, and the flute) shows real life events. Additionally, the artist uses a westernized form of art in the painting because of the objects in the painting portray modernization (Harnett 2008). This is where the painting shows the modern life of a musician. Finally, the area where these form of art was done appears to be an industrialized area. This is because the availability of hinged doors and availability of musical instruments like violin and flute. 

The painting is a still life painting work of art because it tells a real life situation or it tends to depict a real life situation. The objects in the painting depict the life of a modern musician. Second, the arrangement of the objects at the door shows that the musician is an organized person. Thirdly, the way the musical instruments are bright and shining like the musical flutes is a sign of cleanliness (Harnett 2008). Therefore, the musician is a clean person. The torn piece musical notes also indicate that the person is a bit rough. The paper is clean white meaning it is new yet torn. Finally, the partially bright white door and the rust on the hinges is a sign of life. It is because an amount of time has been spent for the dirt and rust to form.  

The third work of art is Queen by Audrey Flack. The Painting was done in 1976 at the time when women were vocal about their rights (Kort and Sonneborn 69). However, the painting does not depict any views of the artist to show her stand on the issue of rights. Additionally, the painting was done in an era where a new form of art style was just introduced that is photorealism (Kort and Sonneborn 69). One can clearly see that the arrangement of objects in the painting appears to be like a picture. The objects in the picture are those of a woman for makeup. Secondly, there is a card (queen of hearts) at the back of the picture. Also, there are two pictures of females may be of the painter and her mother. The only object that talks about a man is a chess piece (king) at the far left corner (Kort and Sonneborn 69). 

The painting is a two-dimension form of art but appears to be like a three dimension. The arrangement of the items overlaps each creating an illusion of a three-dimension painting. Flack also used the background of a mirror to create an illusion to the eye that there might be a reflection (Kort and Sonneborn 69). However, the painting is limited to height and width. This is because the objects appear to be squeezed and overlapping each other so that they can be able to fit in the painting. The colors of the painting are a mixture of bright and dark colors. Flack mixing the colors portrays the wild nature of a woman (Kort and Sonneborn 69). For example, the red rose flower that appears to be the center of attraction makes the painting appear wild. On the other hand, the grey color at the background of the mirror also shows that the owner of the objects is also calm. 

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Flack uses the photograph, modern and real life style to paint the picture (Kort and Sonneborn 69). This makes the painting a still life form of art because it depicts the real life situation of a person. In this case, the personal effects or makeup that appear in the painting tells the observer that the woman likes to look good like a queen. It is worth noting that the objects in the picture are modern. The different shades of lipsticks and color are some of the makeup items used by the women of today (Kort and Sonneborn 69). Secondly, the arrangement of items in the painting is an indication that the owner of the picture was not organized. All these indicators simply tell the observer the underlying story behind the painting or the painters mind. 

The geographical location of the painting also tells the observer a few facts in the area. First, the items in the paintings portray a wealthy woman or a woman who hails from a wealthy family (Kort and Sonneborn 69). For this reason, she has to make herself look like a queen. Furthermore, some of these items are expensive even today. Secondly, the items portray feminism at a time in Cincinnati when women were championing their rights. Although the artist is nonpartisan to the happenings around her, the picture speaks volumes of the effect of the time. The only male object in the picture is a king chess piece tucked in at the far bottom left of the painting (Kort and Sonneborn 69). This shows that the artist recognizes the male counterparts but she is concentrating more on the women. 

After a brief analysis of the paintings, now it is easy for comparing and contrasting. The first comparison is the use of diverse inanimate objects to tell a real life situation. The first painting Still Life with Peaches tells the situation of a wealthy family due to the modern common household items used by the artist (Knopp 144). Similarly, the painting The Old Violin by William Harnett has modern musical instruments mixed with other items like a letter to depict the life situation of a modern musician. In Queen by Audrey Flack, the items show the situation of a wealthy woman who likes to make herself look pretty like a queen (Kort and Sonneborn 69). It is worth noting that the paintings also tell the observer about the characteristics of the artist and the person whom they are trying to emulate in the picture. 

The other similarity that can be noted from the three paintings is the use of modern items persistent throughout the timeline. Irrespective of the great difference in time when the paintings were done, they all use modern instruments to show westernization. The use of the glass jar in the Still Life with Peaches portrays westernization because it is still a common household item even today (Knopp 144). In the painting The Old Violin, Harnett uses the modern musical instruments and the door behind to portray modernization during his time (Harnett 2008). Additionally, these items are still common today and musicians are still using them. In Queen, the makeup items used by Flack are westernized and many women use them even today (Kort and Sonneborn 69). The different paintings show that despite their difference in time they portray modernization. 

However, the three paintings have a difference in the styles the three different artists use to complete their work. Still Life with Peaches painting belongs to the category xenia. Xenia is a style of still life painting used to represent hospitality. This is mainly because of the glass water jar, which is a hospitality item. In The Old Violin by William Harnett use the trompe l’oeil that uses illusions (Harnett 2008). Finally, Queen by Audrey Flack uses photorealism style of painting (Kort and Sonneborn 69). Clearly, the observers can see that the painting appears to be like photograph yet it is a painting. 

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From the three pictures, it can be observed that the use of inanimate objects, personal modern items and use of westernized styles of art are the main characteristics of still life paintings. In all the pictures there has been the use of both natural and manmade items to tell a story or a situation. Additionally, the items and styles of art used by the different artists show modernity or westernization. It is worth noting that the ability of the painting to stay relevant with time irrespective of their age means they have a realistic character. Therefore, as the name suggests, the paintings show life yet the items used are immobile. 

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  1. Harnett, William M. Trompe L’oeil. Washington, D.C: National Gallery of Art, 2008. Internet resource.
  2. Kort, Carol, and Liz Sonneborn. A to Z of American Women in the Visual Arts. New York: Facts on File, 2008. Print.
  3. Knopp, L. “Still Life with Peaches.” Georgia Review. 68.1 (2014): 144. Print.
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