Usually, as is the case here, Beert's still lifes have a rather high viewpoint, which allowed the artist to arrange his motifs systematically, while one back corner of the table is often clearly visible. In Beert's palette, earth colors are often predominant, balanced by cool blues and grays and strengthened by red, yellow and bright green accents. His flower pieces, by the nature of their subject, show more variegation. Beert accomplished the brightness and subtle detail in his works by the use of glazes on a light ground, while details were often rendered with fine linear accents. While quite a few of Beert's works have lost their original quality through loss of the topmost layers of glaze, in this still life the original paint layers are generally well preserved, which allows the viewer to study Beert's handling closely.
Osias Beert often repeated motifs in his still lifes and occasionally repeated larger parts of the same composition. Dishes of Chinese Wanli porcelain with fruit are a recurring feature in Beert's still lifes of this type. Such porcelain was imported by the East-India trade companies and got its popular name of "Kraak" porcelain – a term still internationally used today – from early examples that were taken from a captured Portuguese merchant ship, of a type that was called a "cararcas." At this time, early in the 17th century, such dishes were still an expensive rarity. Judging from the border decoration, in this case Beert did not have an actual dish in front of him, but produced some kind of a fantasy Wanli decoration.1 The locally made pewter dishes were more common. The Venetian-style wine glasses are most likely the product of one of the glass studios led by Venetian immigrants in Liège or Antwerp, rather than an actual import from Venice. Beert's choice of fruit here, as usual, is limited to local produce. Occasionally he would feature the more exotic lemon or orange in his still lifes, but from compositions such as this one they are usually absent. The same knife, with its curious handle that ends in the shape of a horse shoe, can be found in at least two other still lifes by Beert.2
For the placement of his still lifes, Osias Beert often opted for bare surfaces, such as plain wooden tables, or neutral stone plinths. Here, as in other examples, the thinness of the wash with which he has painted his table top allows it to interact with the grain pattern of the wood of the panel. The result is highly convincing and suggestive.
The composition of this still life is typical of Osias Beert: a rather formal array of containers filled with fruit, supplemented with wine glasses, bread, and a knife, interspersed with some small items. Due to the lack of dated works in Beert's oeuvre it is not easy to date individual works accurately. However, the handling of the still life discussed here appears to be quite similar to that of his paintings whose supports bear specific dates. Consequently, a tentative date between 1608 and 1612 can be suggested for it.
Beert's still lifes do not generally appear to abound with symbolism, although, his contemporaries may well have read some into them. The bread and wine, for instance, may have been viewed as referring to the Eucharist. Above all, however, this would appear to be an image of luxury - God-given luxury, to be enjoyed in modesty. As much as the content of the dishes provides a feast to their owner, Beert's image of it is – no doubt quite intentionally – a feast to the eye.
Catalogue entry written by Fred G. Meijer.
1. The border decoration is clearly inspired by Wanli motifs, but curiously deviates from the known formal patterns, compare M. Rinaldi, Kraak Porcelain, 1989, p. 71.
2. The first in the Heinz Family Collection, Washington, D.C., oil on panel 65 x 85 cm.; the other with De Jonckheere, Paris, 1991 (see cat. no. 6), oil on panel, 53.5 by 74.5 cm.
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