View Full Version : Compositions: Learning through still life

05-19-2006, 04:19 PM
"A still life is a work of art depicting a collection of usually inanimate objects, typically natural -- (flowers, game, sea shells and so on) -- or man-made domestic items -- (drinking glasses, foodstuffs, pipes, books and so on). Popular in Western art since the 17th century, still life paintings give the artist more leeway in the arrangement of design elements within a composition than do paintings of other types of subjects such as landscape or portraiture."
source: Wikipedia

Hi all! This is not a tutorial or anything like that. Quite the opposite I need help learning more about composition. :D :D :D I have being for few months now, practicing with still life. At first I didnt care much about the composition as my learning was to focus on painting from life and handling wet into wet paint in order to represent my view as more naturalistic as possible. Getting shadows, light, color, tone, texture all in one place was a hard task and still is. LOLOL But anyway, the last few weeks I am adding composition as part of this learning process and Nickel has started the Classical Quikies project and have mentioned that have only up to three elements were not easy to make interesting compositions. Coincidentely I was looking into still life from older painters to learn from them and found some simple still life paintings. Although most still life painters from the past worked on large set ups with lots of elements there are few who we can study from and get some ideias to use into the Classical quikies project. :)

I would like to invite you to look and analize them with me to check if they are interesting or not, and why?


Here are the artists and the link where you can pick a still life and coment about it. A good ideia would be to post a pic into your post and then analize the still life you have chossen.

Thanks in advance.

Raphaelle Peale
American artist
born 1774 - died 1825

Henri Fantin-Latour
French painter & printmaker
born 14 January 1836 - died 28 August 1904
Latour have many many paintings, some are more complex and some few are simple ones. I like in particular his floral still life.

John Frederick Peto
American, 1854-1907

Martin Heade

I will post more artist as I find them in my research. :)

05-19-2006, 06:08 PM
Hi Rose, I'll be happy to help and learn too!
I'll take the first one
Raphaelle Peale
American artist
born 1774 - died 1825

Will be back when I have some good stuff to share.

05-20-2006, 06:28 PM
Hi Rose,

An example of Peale's style is:


Bowl of Peaches,
Raphaelle Peale

The peaches are a simplified style. Much like this early Roman


Still Life
1st century AD
Original Location: Herculaneum
Today: Museo Nazionale, Naples

Raphaelle Peale's work was after the French school of neoclassicism, in particular after Jacques-Louis David. In his later life, he had gout, regardless and to my surprised he still painted. He was very talented.

If you look at the websites you posted, all of his work is generally balanced, with design based on linear rather than color or effects of light, there is no pictorial space, it is a staged setting.

This type of composition suggests stability.

Also, there is economy of details, this shows austerity.

This style was popular after the 1783 Revolutionary War, and you will see much of this type of style in the buildings in Washington DC, The University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, etc. It was idealized art, toward science if you will. People liked things to look real. There was a distrust of artists taking too much liberty in painting. Therefore, this style was very much in vogue.

"Take Your Choice" by John Frederick Peto is more to my personal taste, even if it is suppose to look real because of, subject matter, color, variety of form, proportion, and unity.


John Frederick Peto
Take Your Choice, 1885, oil on canvas,
John Wilmerding Collection

05-20-2006, 10:09 PM

In my humble opinion: Composition is the fundamental structure on which a painting hangs, and along with the other fundamental components of a painting, eventually lives or dies. No matter how big the piles of bleep have been heaped by apologists, or how deep in the pit it may be thrown by it's detractors, a painting which has the fundamentals in tune will continue to sing long after we have turned to dust.

The artists you have referenced are all excellent. M.J. Heade's Magnolia on a red velvet cloth in St. Louis is the most beautiful thing made by man I have seen in thirty years of painting and looking. A difficult admission on my part since he's not one of my big influences.

Regarding formal composition; the GOLD STANDARD on this subject is Matila Ghyka, THE GEOMETRY OF ART AND LIFE, 1946 isbn 0-486-23542-4.

However, it's not for the lazy.

Artists you might consider are; Richard Diebenkorn, Edward Hopper, Degas, Ruebens, (Ruebens draftsmanship is so good that his incredible compositions are often ignored) T. Eakins, & Seurat.
Later, jstpnt:thumbsup:

05-21-2006, 10:09 PM
Thanks Nickel for a very nice and instructional post. Me learning. :)

Hi Jst, and Welcome to Classical Art Forum. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and suggestion a good book. :)

05-22-2006, 09:30 PM
Hi Rose, I am learning too!
Hi jstpnt! :wave:

Are we going to compare Dutch still life too? :D

05-23-2006, 12:21 PM
Rose I found these two on apples by Gustave Courbet.

I like the one with the landscape.
What do you think?

Still Life with Apples


Still Life with Apples and Pomegranate


05-23-2006, 05:50 PM
Hi Nickel thanks. It certainly makes the apples more interesting the first one. I like too how the leaves are placed in the foreground. :)

06-01-2006, 11:21 PM
Rose, I hope you don't mind if I add a still life from Duveneck.

Still Life with Watermelon 1878


06-02-2006, 09:07 AM
Hi Nickel! I dont mind at all. In fact I loved it. Never met this artist and I am glad you have introduced him to us. The Art world is full of beauty we havent met yet.

I found another simple still life yesterday but well lost the link. I will try to find sometime today.

Thanks for adding Nick! :)

06-02-2006, 08:12 PM
that painting of peto reminds me of the desk painting by our nickel:o i cant seem to get more than two objects in my abc quickies:confused: still trying!!!! tyree

06-02-2006, 10:31 PM
You got me Susan, lol, I did paint my desk cleaner than it actually is, lol.
I've got to come up with something tomorrow. Two things are not so bad.
Think about the shapes, are they the same or different? Experiment, move the objects around if possible and look at various positions. I don't know if I am right or not, I pick out my subject first. Anything else is just to support my subject. Sometimes I add too much and Sometimes not enough is added. A question is can a subject stand on it own with no support? If so how?

06-04-2006, 09:00 PM
Hi Susan, HI Nickel!

I started playing with composition with one object and trying to place it within the space in a nice way. (Hey, I said trying!!) Reading about compositions, I have learned not to use two objects only that better use 3, 5, 7 and so on. So I usually try to play with 3 minimun. I think it is challenging to work out a composition with less than 3 and I wonder about Nickel's question, if a subject can stand out on its own.

Reminds of this painting from Raphael Peale. What do you think Nickel! Does it work well on its own?

06-05-2006, 12:00 AM
After I posted I thought that the leaves were supporting the peach. What do you think?

I remember seeing from Paele an orange on top of a book. But the peel of the orange arranged, with I think it was in an interesting way. Going to find the pic to post.

06-05-2006, 01:24 PM
Hi Rose, lol, you see it my way, I do think it is two, a peach and the leaf, plus we could count the background, etc. table maybe, it is kind of like which comes first the chicken or the egg. Even a portrait needs a background so I don't know. I know composition is suppose to be the backbone of the picture.
But then just what really does composition mean? It's not just one thing, right? A backbone needs muscles, and blood and nerves and etc. Right?
Again I hear in the back of my mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Then we can talk about beauty. I wrote many papers on beauty.
I like the sketch you did of the peach & leaf.

It occurs to me to compare composition to a family, you have the self, you have the wife and husband, add in a few children, they grow up, then you have the couple left alone, maybe a few grandchildren, or maybe all alone, and then the sorrow of only being the self.

I'll look around for some more paintings of still life. I am enjoying this thread!

06-05-2006, 01:43 PM
Yeah Nickel I think you are right. Something to do with the chicken and the egg. LOLOLOL

Susan I found the painting I was thinking of. It is two elements but Imagine if the orange was placed on top of it in an uninsteresing way. I think that although it is just simple objects, the way the orange is placed is what makes it looks nice.


06-07-2006, 10:25 PM
its so simple, and beautifully done rose....and your rendition of it was brilliant.....tyree:wave:

06-07-2006, 11:16 PM
Thanks Susan. You sweet. I like Peale's simplicity in composition.

06-12-2006, 04:29 PM
check this out