Nelson-Atkins Building, Gallery P27
By stopping the constant flow of life, the still life allows both artist and viewer to observe closely the details of natural and crafted forms. Still lifes adorn the walls of Egyptian tombs, Roman villas, royal palaces and modern homes. Some convey symbolic meaning, some document wealth and status and others simply present the objects with which we live.
The 19th century saw a growing interest in botanical illustration, informed by global travel and scientific exploration. In England, the botanist Robert James Thornton produced perhaps the most lavish and beautiful book ever published of floral illustration, The Temple of Flora. Floral still life would remain of crucial interest throughout the century, being favored by the Impressionists and, above all, by Edouard Manet.
The still life was a favored subject for 20th-century artists. Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall evoked joyful domesticity with their depictions of flowers and fruits. At the same time, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque upended the notion that a still life must be still.
Image: Marc Chagall, French, born Russia, 1887–1985. Basket of Fruit and Pineapples, 1964. Color lithograph. Gift of Mrs. Leonard Charles Kline, F85-21/1.