Nature Morte: Contemporary artists reinvigorate the Still-Life tradition



“Yes, Death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of Death’s house, for Love is always with you, and Love is stronger than Death is.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost


Nature Morte: Contemporary artists reinvigorate the Still-Life tradition is one of a number of projects published during 2013, more of which will be revealed during the coming weeks and months. Written and curated by Michael Petry, Nature Morte is a timely survey of twenty-first century still-life — a genre previously synonymous with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Old Masters.


In recent years, artists have combined the metaphorical and moral traditions of Nature Morte (dead nature) with contemporary approaches to painting, photography, sculpture and video. The cover illustrates this clash of old and new with a lenticular print — Ori Gersht metaphorically and literally blowing apart Jan Davidsz. de Heem.


The book is split into five chapters referring to the classic categories of the still-life tradition — Flora, Food, House and Home, Fauna and Death. Each chapter begins with an image/typographic opener and historical essay and continues with contemporary works that explore the concept of memento mori — a reminder of death, change and the passing of time.

The design is informed by the allegorical symbolism and striking juxtapositions characteristic of still-life: transient/ultimate, light/shadow, life/death. Essay designs are informed by 16th and 17th century dutch typography — a region and period synonymous with stilleven.


Nature Morte is published by Thames and Hudson and was featured in Wallpaper* Magazine’s 10 new titles to add to your shelves in October 2013.