Still Life was painted in 1940, when Tomlin was turning away from a structured realism akin to the art of Marsden Hartley and Preston Dickinson toward a fragmented, cubist mode of expression. This stylistic shift stemmed from his overriding desire to explore different techniques and styles, an interest that was fueled by his increased exposure to abstract artists and new modes of expression in New York. Tomlin's nature was that of a highly observant, methodical "gradualist," to use Duncan Phillips's term. He pondered the developments surrounding him and selectively incorporated them into his art. The many avant-garde institutions, groups, and exhibitions in New York during the late 1930s were rich sources for such a receptive artist. Tomlin's activity in this milieu increased in 1941, when he became associated with the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors.
Cubism appealed to Tomlin's rational nature—especially Picasso's and Braque's synthetic cubism, which he could view regularly at various New York museums, including the Museum of Modern Art. Tomlin's creations of the early 1940s interpret cubism in a fine-tuned, harmonious manner. Regularly exhibited at the Rehn Gallery as well as the Whitney and Carnegie annuals, these works won him favor with both museums and collectors such as Duncan Phillips.
Tomlin's cubism is comparable to that of Braque in its subtlety and refined simplicity. The artist's reserved, understated nature is revealed in the studied composition and intricate color of Still Life, considered one of his finest cubist endeavors. The still life on the tabletop is recognizable; however, Tomlin fragmented the image into rectangular sections of color as if he were viewing it through a kaleidoscope. He accentuated many of the sections by incising into the paint to create subtle outlines, subordinating the immediate perception of the chalice, pitcher, grapes, and plums to the overall pattern. The objects and their division into planes of color call to mind Braque's still lifes of the 1920s, while the floating patterns are reminiscent of Alfred Maurer's still-life compositions a decade earlier.
Still Life demonstrates Tomlin’s sensitivity to color through his manipulation of deep shades of olive, burgundy, brown, and violet. He enlivened the image with a shock of vivid blue in the painting's center. The broken strokes of red, green, and yellow in the left center reveal a pointillist technique that he used often during this period. Because of its carefully delineated color shapes, Still Life is reminiscent of the overall effect of stained glass.