The Still Life was a classic form of oil painting best known in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries which has survived to the present as a photographic form, mostly for commercial objects, in sales catalogues and advertisements. There is a complex philosophy behind the original concept of the still life. The form was known as Memento Mori – a remembrance or memento of death. Most classic still life paintings featured fruits, flowers, dead animals, items from nature such as pinecones, bunches of sticks or hay, and so on.One of the messages of the classic still life is that everything fades and disappears, rot and decay are inevitable. In “Skull and Writing Quill” below, the idea of time and its passing record is referred to.  In “Still Life with Citrons” the prominent image of the insect, some kind of fly, suggests the way the beauty of the fruit will inevitably be subjected to the rot introduced by the insect.

Pieter Claesz, Still Life with a Skull and Writing Quill, 1628.
Giovanna Garzoni, Still Life with a Bowl of Citrons, 1646.

Still life was especially popular in Flemish and the Netherland countries. It began to reflect the increasing urbanization of society, with its emphasis on the home, personal possessions, commerce trade and learning.

In this way, classic Still Life can be seen to connect to contemporary photographic Still Life approaches, with the focus on domestic possessions and their arrangement.

My Still Life with Flowers, the set-up of which was part of an exercise in the studio reflects the abundance of nature and the passing beauty of the flowers. The image was cropped slightly and colour contrast intensified to bring out the yellows and creams.

Annette Hamilton. Still Life with Fruits and Flowers, Kingswood Studio, 2016.

The idea of the Still Life remains fascinating. Because I always have in the back of my mind that a photograph is on a continuum with a painting, I continually experiment with shapes and forms which include elements of abstraction or experimentation. In this recent (2018) experiment, a simple still-life snapshot of a nectarine on a blue plate turned into an alluring abstract form eminently suitable for a small oil or acrylic painting. This has given me the idea of a project following this concept through more systematically, using different fruits as the basis. (Spots on the image to be removed).

Nectarine on Blue Plate (original)
Still Life : original photograph Nectarine on Blue Plate


Nectarine on a Blue Plate 2
Photomodified: Nectarine on a Blue Plate