The Hidden Movement in Still Life Art

Although still life art traditionally depicts inanimate subjects for the purpose of admiration, observation and, for some, even meditation around the subject matter of the work, there are many examples where hidden movement is also suggested in the piece. This is generally conjured by the artist through the implied backdrop of a momentary time-frame surrounding the picture.

When we look at a family photograph or holiday snaps they bring us instantly into the time and place that the pictures were taken. Photographs, because they are most often taken to capture those moments, do that by virtue of our memories, but there are examples of still life art that also achieve this in a more imaginative way. The artist behind them does so by adding hidden movement into the composition by suggestions within the objects themselves, which offer a story.


Frozen in Time

There are many artists who have used this technique, notably some famous names from the 19th century period.

Take, for example, two of Vincent Van Gogh’s works, ‘A Pair of Shoes’ and ‘The Chair’, painted in 1886 and 1888 respectively. This great 19th-century artist was a past master at recreating moments frozen in time and these two examples – though he actually painted quite a few shoes – demonstrate this technique perfectly.

Resting on ‘The Chair’ is a pipe and tobacco pouch. What we might also see beyond these inanimate objects is the person to whom they may belong. In what immediate activity they are engaged depends entirely on our imagination, but the presence of someone perhaps looking around, having absentmindedly placed these items on the chair a few moments earlier is one possible example. There are many others.


Imagined Moments

Similarly, as we look at ‘A Pair Of Shoes’, it is hard not to bring to mind a long trek over rough terrain that preceded the shoes being taken off and perhaps a soothing basin of water, in which the wearer’s feet are currently immersed.

This does not in any way diminish the value of the paintings as fine examples of the objects in themselves, but offers us the added possibility of catching an imagined moment in the time and place that initially inspired the artist to paint the picture.

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