Still Life Lesson Plan

As we have taken artwork out into the schools with the Art to Go outreach program, I have noticed that the children are unfamiliar with the term Still Life.  Our new packet for the 2010-2011 school year Art to Go presentations will be on still life. We will bring the 3 paintings below and discuss them. This activity would work well as a follow up to the presentation, or can be used as a stand alone lesson.

Purpose: The following lesson plan will help you with the genre of Still Life. Students will be able to define the different art genres. We will also explore symbolism widely used in the Netherlands 1600 - 1700 still life art.

Wikipedia defines Still Life as:  A work of art depicting inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, flowers, plants, rocks, or shells) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, and so on) in an artificial setting. Still life paintings, particularly before 1700, often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted.

Still Life History

In ancient Egyptian tombs, still life paintings would often adorn the walls in the belief that the food and other items could become real and be used by the deceased. (70 AD)

In the 1600s and 1700s, Netherland artists developed a symbolism in still life art called Vanitas. Vanitas, in Latin, refers to the "vanity" of all worldly things, such as wealth, beauty, Idle hands (the wasting of time), learning, and the arts. The Vanitas took on a macabre feel. These pieces would often portray lovely objects, however the symbolism would be reminding us of mans mortality, being centered on life, death, and aging. Skulls were often used to remind the observer of the certainty of death. Decaying or peeled fruit would be a reminder of aging. Broken glass, bubbles, a burning candle, smoke, watches, hourglasses or a book with turned pages would symbolize the fragility and brevity of life, and the suddenness of death.  Musical instruments were also used to exemplify the ephemeral nature of life.  Seafood or a peeled lemon would tell us that although they were fabulous to look at, they were bitter to taste, just like life could be.  Anything hinting at wealth could also be included as a reference that this too was not eternal. A gold chain could mean loyalty and games represented the frivolity of the pleasures in life.

Examples of Still Life:

Bucket in the Window Robert A. Call


                                                                                                                      Eccles Community Art Center Permanent Collection


Still Life - Myra Powell

Oil on Board

Eccles Community Art Center Permanent Art Collection

 Spring Bouquet - Florence E. Ware

                                                                                          Oil on canvas

                                                                                          Eccles Community Art Center Permanent Collection


Third Grade:

Suggested works of art in the Still Life Category:

Enamel Pan by Pablo Picasso


Fourth Grade:

Suggested works of art in the Still Life Category:

Apples and Oranges by Paul Cezanne

Apples and Oranges by Cezanne



Fifth Grade:

There are no suggested masterworks that fall into the Still Life Genre. As stated in Objective 3,d. Any works of art with which the teacher is familiar and appropriately teaches the standards and objectives of this grade level can be used. This could include works suggested for other grade levels as well as other works by the artists suggested in the visual arts core standards. One of those artists suggested is Paul Gauguin.   We have selected the following piece for your use.

Still-Life with Fruit and Lemons by Paul Gauguin


 Sixth Grade:

Suggested works of art in the Still Life Category:

Interior flowers and Parrots by Henri Matisse




A modern look at still life as done by Philippe Derom

Cherry Tart Vanitas' 1978

Oil on canvas



Bring any items from home that you feel would be good for the activity. Fruit is always good, game pieces, a vase, musical instrument etc. You can also use things around the classroom: books, a container of paint brushes or pencils, a glass that is half full (or half empty!). If you wish to incorporate the vanitas in your lesson you will want to have some of the items listed in the above vanitas section on hand. A portable light will need to be available if you plan on having the students put the shadows and reflections in their piece. Different suggestions are also included in the grade specific modifications.

Determine what media you will use. This will be determined by what is available /affordable. To make the student feel more like it is a work of art, paint of any kind is suggested.


Introduce the different genres: landscapes, portraits and still life. Explain what still life means and show the grade specific examples listed above.


Have your students empty their pockets. Arrange their contents on a table at the front of the classroom. Make sure to remember what belongs to whom! Augment the grouping with objects that you have brought in such as fruit, books, a vase,  flowers etc. Have the students choose from the objects and help arrange them for their still life piece.  Encourage them to arrange the items so that there is overlapping of the items.  Take the opportunity to teach them about balance. 

Points to cover before they begin:

  Dont just draw the individual objects , make sure to overlap and portray them as a grouping.    (Refer to the example paintings provided.)

  They do not have to be realistic, they can do more of an expressionistic  drawing like the Picasso or Matisse.  Explain that an artist is giving THEIR interpretation of what/how they like it to look. There is no right or wrong way  in creating your own art. Take the opportunity to discuss respect for your own and others art.

  Use the entire page. Fill up the background space with whatever  you like.

  Older students should create balance with their objects.



The Eccles Community Art Center is a non-profit organization whose purpose in this regard is to help local educators teach visual art to their students and meet the UEN Core Standards for visual arts. 


* This image is of a drawing, painting, print, or other two-dimensional work of art, and the copyright for it is most likely owned by either the artist who produced the image, the person who commissioned the work, or the heirs thereof. It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of works of art. for critical commentary on


                       Fair use is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship. It provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test. The term fair use originated in the United States. A similar principle, fair dealing, exists in some other common law jurisdictions. Civil law jurisdictions have other limitations and exceptions to copyright.

Non-free media use rationale for Phillippe Derome and Vanitas:

Description:  a low resolution image is used to show a modern Vanitas. The image is shown to help students compare the original Vanitas with the Philipe Derome interpretation of a modern day Vanitas. The image is used for teaching purposes only and it is considered that this will not commercially harm the copyright holder. Image used will be of such low resolution that it is believed that any copy made would be of such inferior quality that it would be unsuitable for uses that would compete with any commercial purpose of the image. It is believed that this is fair use and does not infringe on any copyright laws.



Suggested works of art are a faithful image reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain because the art is of public domain and its copyright has expired. This applies to the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus 70 years.