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Still life and domestic bliss : lockdown artistic creations.

Posted by on 14 février 2021

A picture of domestic bliss: why we’ve fallen in love with still life.

Instagram posts of homely scenes are striking a chord with users taking a renewed interest in their outdoor environment

Flowers in a vase on a ledge with a dragonfly, caterpillar, and butterfly by Rachel Ruysch, left, and Tuft of Marine Plants, Shells and Corals by Anne Vallayer-Coster
Flowers in a vase on a ledge with a dragonfly, caterpillar, and butterfly by Rachel Ruysch, left, and Tuft of Marine Plants, Shells and Corals by Anne Vallayer-Coster. Photograph: Sotheby’s/Alamy
Sun 7 Feb 2021 09.45 GMT

At a time when domesticity and what’s inside the home makes up the majority of what most people encounter in their daily lives, the still life is having a resurgence on social media – from influencers sharing their own photographs of satsumas and candles, to posting 18th-century paintings of shells and corals.

The still-life hashtag has more than six million Instagram posts. Lucy Williams, an influencer with more than 490,000 followers, has been posting shots of lamps and lemons throughout lockdown. Fashion industry insider Ben Cobb recently shared an 18th-century still life by French painter Anne Vallayer-Coster on his feed, while interior designer Luke Edward Hall has been posting shots of just-opening narcissi against books.

“One of our top-performing posts in the past 30 days is a still life painted by Rachel Ruysch,” says Abigail Tavener, social media manager at Sotheby’s London. Still lifes, she says, “can be counted among our best-performing content, with a handful of examples garnering more than 10,000 likes – double our average number of likes-per-post.”

A clutch of artists are also giving the still life contemporary currency on Instagram. Sydney-based painter Gabrielle Penfold came to still lifes in a very Instagram-first way, after being struck by the craze for everyone documenting their food. She started painting similar scenes: “I would put it on Instagram and people would respond really well.”

For her, this is what a still life is: “It’s something that resonates with people … nothing harsh to have hanging on your wall. It makes you feel happy – and, especially in these times, you want to feel good!”

Miriam Dema is another of the artists. “What I like the most about still-life paintings is that they are a reflection of a specific moment … and that they give value to everyday elements that would otherwise be lost in oblivion.”

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of being able to stay at home, but at a time when the domestic sphere makes up the majority of many people’s days, it also feels apt that a medium elevating the everyday – the literal bread and butter, or ephemera, of daily life – is finding fans. Hall has always enjoyed photographing bits and pieces at home but “because I’ve been spending much more time at home, I’ve naturally ended up taking more photographs in the house”.

Fashion industry insider Ben Cobb
Fashion industry insider Ben Cobb recently posted an 18th-century still life by Anne Vallayer-Coster. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty

Plus, he says, “maybe the pandemic has allowed us to look at existing things we have at home with fresh eyes? Perhaps people are rediscovering the joy of their homely objects, of cooking and growing things and then photographing the results?” While authentic to the genre, it also resonates that fruit, vegetables, seafood, wine and coffee often star – for many people food has become more central than usual.

For a number of those composing or painting still lifes during the pandemic, they are an expression of ebullience. “To me, it represents the exaltation of beauty and the enjoyment of the senses,” says interior designer Pino Bravo, who recently posted lemons alongside a candle and a David Hume quote: “Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”

The movement ties into the ongoing love of tablescaping, a trend that means that shots of artfully laid tables are three-a-penny on Instagram, feeding into the still-life aesthetic. It has also been bolstered by the pandemic craze for knick-knacks. In July last year former lifestyle site Repeller declared: We’ve Reached Peak Tchotchke, referring to objects that are “decorative rather than strictly functional”. Pictures of ornaments have similarly been filtering on to Instagram, making content out of shots of vases and kitsch busts.

Looking to art history, the still life genre has often been linked to mortality and death – the vanitas, for instance, is a type of still life specifically designed to remind the viewer of their own mortality. But the current crop on social media scream of life.

Penfold describes her paintings of mackerel, artichokes, figs and cheese as “celebrations of life”. Hall also sees his shots of objects that way: “When I walk past a collection of favourite treasured objects, I’m filled with joy.”

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