Not being an artist myself, I’d always found still life paintings rather boring and wondered why artists had such a fascination with painting inanimate objects, often painting the same subject repeatedly.

Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life

Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life about 1640

Harmen van Steenwyck (1612–c.1656)

The National Gallery, London

However, since working as a coordinator with Art UK, and having catalogued hundreds of still life paintings, I have become rather attached and ever more impressed by the skill and artistry involved in works that capture and portray lifeless objects to produce something which can astonish or repel.

Still Life with a Lobster

Still Life with a Lobster 1650-9

Willem Claesz. Heda (1594–1680)

The National Gallery, London

Type ‘still life’ into Art UK and up pop thousands of paintings. The variety of subject matter is immense.


Auricula 2001

Mary Fedden (1915–2012)

The University of York

There are sumptuously detailed works from Dutch artists such as Willem Claesz. Heda and Harmen van Steenwyck, the famed decorative flower pictures of Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer to twentieth-century pieces by Robert MacBryde and Mary Fedden.

If you don’t consider yourself a fan of still life work, I urge you to take a look at just a few of these paintings.

Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables

Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables c.1945–1950

Robert MacBryde (1913–1966)

Ferens Art Gallery

You will probably get hooked and search them out next time you visit a gallery.

Hazel Buchan Cameron, Former Art UK Paintings Project Coordinator