Still Life paintings are pictures of inanimate objects, such as fruit, flowers, dishes, books, or musical instruments, usually grouped on a flat surface. The subject matter of still lifes is rarely important for its own sake; rather, it most often serves as a showcase for the painter's compositional skill and ability to render detail and texture.
Although still life elements are present in Greek, Roman, Gothic, and Asian art, still life as a separate pursuit is primarily a Western development that flourished after the 16th century. In the Netherlands there was a type of still life known as vanitas, symbols of earthly pleasures are juxtaposed with reminders of mortality, such as skulls, clocks, or burning candles. Outside the Netherlands, still life was accorded minimal importance until 18th-century French painter Jean-Baptiste Chardin demonstrated its expressive possibilities in his quietly harmonious works.
Still life grew in importance through the next century, culminating in the work of French artist Paul Cezanne, whose many paintings of apples and oranges are masterpieces of formal composition. Still life became one of the dominant art forms of the early 20th century, when painters Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque, among others, used it as a vehicle for experimentation in cubism, fauvism, and expressionism.