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.
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.
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.