Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 16 December 1911, lot 104, for 145 guineas to Agnew;
With Thos. Agnew and Sons, Ltd., London, from 1912 until 1919;
Private collection, England, 1922;
With Asscher, Koetser and Welker, Amsterdam, 1922;
A. van Veen, Rotterdam, 1922–24;
With Gebr. Douwes, Amsterdam and London, 1924;
Willem Joseph Rudolf Dreesmann (1885–1954), Amsterdam,1924–54;
By descent to Pia van Spaendonck-Dreesmann (1917–1995), Tilburg, from 1955 to 1970, and Antwerp, Ekeren, until 1974;
Private collection, Switzerland;
Private collection, Germany;
Willem Baron van Dedem, Hoorn, until 1993;
Anonymous sale ('Property of a Private Collector') New York, Christie’s, 14 January 1993, lot 109, reproduced on the front cover;
Where acquired by the present collector.
Münster, Westfälisches Landsmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte and Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Stilleben in Europa, 25 November 1979 – 15 June 1980, no. 224.
N.R.A. Vroom, De Schilders van het Monochrome Banketje, Amsterdam 1945, pp. 34, 42 and 199, no. 35, reproduced p. 32, fig. 19;
I. Bergström, G. Betz et al., Stilleben: Die grosse Zeit des Europäischen Stillebens, Stuttgart and Zurich 1979, p. 183;
G. Langemeyer and H.-A. Peters (eds), Stilleben in Europa, exhibition catalogue Münster 1979, pp. 425–28, no. 224, reproduced p. 427;
N.R.A. Vroom, A Modest Message as intimated by the Painters of the Monochrome Banketje, Schiedam 1980, vol. I, pp. 36–38, reproduced p. 37; vol. II, p. 21, no. 70 (incorrectly listed as dated 1636);
V.I. Stitz, 'Johann Michael Hambach ein Kölner Stillebenmaler,' in Wallraf-Richartz-Jarbuch, 1990, pp. 208, 210, reproduced pl. 6;
S. Melikian, 'Old Masters Brush Off the Recession,' in The Herald Tribune, Saturday–Sunday, 23–24 January 1993, p. 7;
Christie's Review of the Season 1993, p. 19, reproduced in colour;
P. Sutton, Dutch & Flemish Paintings: The Collection of Willem, Baron van Dedem, London 2002, pp. 81 and 82, note 5 (as private collection Switzerland);
M. Brunner-Bulst, Pieter Claes: der Hauptmeister des Haarlemer Stillebens im 17. Jahrhundert, Luca 2004, pp. 174–75, 178, 181, 240, cat. no. 64, reproduced p. 240.
Compared to the earlier works in the tradition of his Haarlem peers like Floris van Dijck and Floris van Schooten, and even to a certain extent those of his early maturity circa 1630, his compositions are henceforward composed of fewer objects organized around a simple geometric structure and his palette is restricted to suit this more muted style, eschewing the flashes of local colour sometimes seen in the works from the late 1620s. In her 2004 monograph on the artist, Martina Brunner-Bulst focuses on this painting to introduce and explain his mature style and how it shaped subsequent still life painting in the Netherlands.1
Claesz’s early paintings, from the 1620s, are representative of the monochromatic still lifes that were popular in Haarlem at the time. The predominant colours were warm browns and olives, but the artist then added elements of local colour to enliven the mix. Although tighter and more unified than the works of his predecessors, these early compositions can still be described as 'additive' in nature: the view point is high and the various objects are arranged so that each can be seen clearly, with little or no overlapping, and colouring is not always totally monochrome.
The present work, a modest ontbijtje (breakfast piece), ushers in Claesz’s new approach. Though as early as 1629 Claesz adopted a far lower viewpoint than that of his peers, here we view the objects from a lower viewpoint still.2 Until this point only the upper ledge of the table or shelf would be shown, but here a whole third of the composition is granted to the side of the clothed table, pushing the still life elements higher and higher. This lowered viewpoint creates a feeling of intimacy and brings us closer to the objects on the table. There are fewer elements than before and they are placed more closely together, overlapping each other though each object still maintaining its own well-defined place in the composition. Most important is his use of a central organizing principle, here two triangles, one with the roemer at the apex, the fallen jug as one of the arms and the table top as its base; the other formed of the three brightest parts, the bread roll moving forward to the lemon and back to the frothy beer.
It is however light that controls and defines the composition throughout. It presents itself smothering the soft surfaces of the roll and the olives, refracting through the curves of the roemer, catching the prunts of the roemer, and reflecting off the pewter surfaces of the jug and the plates and the glass. Indeed Claesz’s sophisticated understanding of light is best seen in the roemer, whose green glass and green wine also alter the colour of the light. We see the light's source, a window, reflected in the upper outside rim of the roemer’s bowl, and again on the corresponding inside. At the far edge it is reflected by the curve caused by the surface tension of the wine, though refracted so that it reaches the edges of the glass in two places. And it is this perfect description of the way the light falls, reflects and refracts on, off and through the glass that gives the roemer’s bowl its perfect roundness and three-dimensionality.
Claesz used some of the individual elements in earlier compositions and they in fact became regular motifs throughout his career. The overturned jug, for example, first appears in a breakfast piece of 1628, now in a private collection. The roemer here, with raspberry-like prunts, replaces his favourite simpler-prunted roemer that is seen in all earlier paintings (that include roemer) and many subsequent. It is seen again in an undated work that is however dated by Brunner-Bulst to the following year.3
Various interpretations of the meaning of Dutch still-lifes have been offered over the years. In the case of the breakfast pieces they have been described as allegories of transience, depictions of luxury and excess, or in this particular case perhaps modesty, or representations of important commodities in the Dutch trading empire (beer and bread). Scholars disagree and, in truth, we cannot be certain how a seventeenth-century viewer would have interpreted this painting.
1. Brunner-Bulst 2004, pp. 174–75.
2. See for example the 1629-dated work offered London, Sotheby’s, 6 July 2016 lot 15.
3. Brunner-Bulst 2004, p. 242, no. 67, reproduced.
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