Alive “Nature morte” – great painters override the rules

alive still life

Among the artists who presented still life contraversially are Pieter Boel, Andreas Stech, Salvador Dalí, Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo.

Salvador Dalí with his “Soft Self-Portrait with Grilled Bacon” and Frida Kahlo with her self-portrait “The Two Frida” are also known as the artists who brought self-portraits to the intriguing level, showing themselves in a controversial or riveting manner. Read more about it in our previous article Intriguing self-portraits by famous artists.

Still life painters who depicted “dead nature” as alive

Pieter Boel

Pieter Boel ((baptized in 1622 –1674) was a Flemish painter, printmaker and tapestry designer. He specialized in animal paintings and lavish still life. He revolutionized animal painting by working directly from live animals in a natural setting, thus showing them in their natural, characteristic poses [1].

alive still life

Pieter Boel, Still life with a globe and a cockatoo parrot, 1658.

Oil on canvas, 313 x 168 cm, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.

Image credit:

Andreas Stech

Andreas Stech (Stolp (Słupsk) 1635 – Danzig (Gdańsk) 1697) was a Baroque painter.

alive still life

Andreas Stech, Still life with a Squirrel, 1657.

Oil on canvas, 90 x 122 cm. National Museum, Gdańsk, Poland.

Image credit: @palatronis

Salvador Dalí

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marquess of Dalí de Púbol gcYC (Figueres 1904 – Figueres 1989) was a Spanish surrealist artist.

alive still life

Salvador Dalí, Living Still Life (French: Nature Morte Vivante), 1956.

Image credit:

About the painting: Dali painted this piece during a period that he called “Nuclear Mysticism”, which combined elements of art, physics, maths and science. By appending “vivante”, which implies “fast moving action and a certain lively quality”, Dali was essentially naming this piece “dead nature in movement”.

Dali was inspired by the Dutch painter Floris van Schooten and his painting Table with Food, however, Dali gave to his painting a surrealist signature by showing all of the objects in motion. He wanted to enforce that “all objects are made of atomic particles in constant motion”, which he portrays through the scattered items. He painted the still life objects to move in a life of his own, without the complacency of a typical still life.

Dali became fascinated by the atom in post WWII period. Dali stated that after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb in Japan that it “shook me [Dali] seismically” and that the atom was his “favorite food for thought” [2].

Frida Kahlo

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón (Mexico city 1907 – Mexico city 1954) was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico.

alive still life

Frida Kahlo, Alive Still Life, 1952

Oil on canvas, Maria Félix collection, Mexico

alive still life

Frida Kahlo, Still Life with a Parrot and a Flag, 1951

28 x 40 cm, oil on panel

alive still life

Frida Kahlo, Fruits of Life, 1953

Oil on hardboard, 47 x 62 cm, collection of Raquela M. de Espinosy Ulloa, Mexico

Remedios Varo

Remedios Varo Uranga (Anglès 1908 – Mexico city 1963) was a Spanish-Mexican surrealist painter.

alive still life

Remedios Varo, Floral Bouquet with Birds, 1960

Image credit:

The artist often worked in oil on masonite panels she prepared herself. Learn more about Remedios Varo from our article Remedios Varo – woman impressionist.

A drop of theory

About the origin of the term “Still life” or otherwise “Nature morte

A still life is a work of visual art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, both natural (food, plants, flowers, trophies of hunting, skulls, shells, etc.) or man-made (books, vases, drinking glasses, plates, musical instruments, watches, jewelry, etc.).

The French name Nature Morte translates in English to “still life”, however, literally it translates to “dead nature”. The English term still life is derived from the Dutch equivalent stilleven. Romance languages used the term dead nature as in the French nature morte [3].

Numerous languages follow whether Dutch or French origin of the term.

Languages that follow Dutch origin of the term: German (Stillleben), Afrikan (Stillewe), English (Still life), Swedish (Stilleben).

Languages that follow French origin of the term: Estonian (Natüürmort), Italian (Natura morta), Maltian (Natura mejta), Portuguese (Natureza-morta), Turkish (Natürmort), Russian (Натюрморт), Bulgarian (Натюрморт), Ukranian (Натюрморт).

In some languages, the French term nature morte is translated directly to the particular language, also literally meaning “dead nature”: Polish (Martwa natura), Bosnian (Mrtva priroda), Croatian (Mrtva priroda), Macedonian (Мртва природа).

What makes the art magic and immortal is the fact that any limits and definitions may be subjective, just get an idea and give it a try.


Right after visiting The National Museum in Warsaw, Poland (Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie) I can add Jan van Kessel the elder (1626 – 1679) and his Bouquet in a Glass Vase with a Lizard on the Window Sill,  Pletter van de Venne (1615-1657) with his Flowers in a Vase with Seashells and a Watch (where butterflies are flying around the bouquet), and Henryka Beyer (1782 – 1855) with her Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase (with butterflies and garden bug).

Is there are any other Alive “Nature morte” painter who comes to your mind? Please share your experience in the comments below!


  1. Pieter Boel by Wikipedia, online source:
  2. Living Still Life by Wikipedia, online source:
  3. It’s Stilleven, Nature Morte, Dead Nature, or Still Life by John Hulsey and Ann Trusty, online source:

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