Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses (detail). Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906). Oil on canvas, ca. 1890. Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951 (51.112.1)
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Select Spring Still Lifes

An array of arrangements for the new season

Picture fruit—apples, perhaps. They’re stacked in a dish, with a few of them lying not too far away, on the smooth solid surface nearby. Such a scene, captured by brushstrokes and translated onto a canvas, is a wonderful example of the genre of still life. 

Still life can be a form of experimentation for an artist, a way to practice and express their art form. This can be seen in the sensuous painting The Brioche by Impressionist Edouard Manet, who reportedly called still life the “touchstone of the painter.” By contrast,  Henri Matisse’s Still Life with Vegetables depicts more planar subjects, which look like they’ve been freshly retrieved from the market.

The Brioche. Edouard Manet (French, 1832–1883). Oil on wood, 25 5/8 x 31 7/8 in., ca. 1870. Gift and Bequest of David and Peggy Rockefeller, 1991, 2017 (1991.287)
Still Life with Vegetables. Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 18 1/8 in., ca. 1905. Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.38) © 2020 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Still-life scenes like these may also be interpreted as depictions of the pleasures of life, and how fleeting they are. The concept known as vanitas goes further, illustrating the brevity of life and the futility of its pleasures. Vanitas still-life paintings express this explicitly using not-so-subtle symbols, with skulls as a common motif to show the inevitability of death.

Still Life with a Skull and Writing QuillI. Pieter Claesz (Dutch, 1596/97–1660). Oil on wood, 9 1/2 x 14 1/8 in. 1628. Rogers Fund, 1949 (49.2017)

Floral still lifes, on the other hand, may not express this concept so directly. Instead, they might offer an appreciation of the pleasures that we can find  during our finite time on Earth.

As the new season peaks and we enjoy the fresh and sunny spring weather, New York is in bloom, like the arrangements found within the art in The Met’s galleries.

Bouquet of Chrysanthemums. Auguste Renoir (French 1841–1919). Oil on canvas, 26 x 21 7/8 in., 1881. The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (2003.20.10)
Left: Dutch Bouquet Scarf, $80 Right: A Vase of Flowers (detail). Margareta Haverman (Dutch, Breda 1693–1722 or later). Oil on wood. 31 1/4 x 23 3/4 in. 1716. Purchase, 1871 71.6
Left: Redon Bouquet of Flowers Scarf, $70. Right: Bouquet of Flowers (detail). Odilon Redon (French, Bordeaux 1840–1916 Paris). Pastel on paper. 31 5/8 x 25 1/4 in., ca 1900-1905. Gift of Mrs. George B. Post, 1956 (56.50)

Shop The Met Store for scarves and other gifts inspired by floral still-life works.

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