PROPERTY FROM THE MORPURGO COLLECTION, AMSTERDAM
Thence by inheritance to the present owner.
P. Biesboer et al., Pieter Claesz.: Master of Haarlem Still life, exh. cat., Zurich 2005, pp. 48, 103, 122, cat. no. 25, reproduced in colour p. 64.
The lemon yellow of the fruit, reflected in the polished sheen of the jug, on the rim of the pewter plate, in the highlights of the vine leaves, in the wine, and in the shells of the open walnuts, brings a unifying warm tone repeated at melodic intervals throughout the composition which is otherwise executed in an almost entirely monochromatic palette. All the technical skill that he had attained since his first dated works of 1621 is demonstrated in this modest ‘breakfast piece’ (ontbijtje).
Claesz’s still lifes are quite different from the ‘additive’ composition of his predecessors in Haarlem, such as Nicolaes Gillis, Floris van Dijk and Floris van Schooten, who took a higher viewpoint and incorporated a wide variety of colours and objects, often with geometric precision. Claesz’s paintings are instead characterised by a low viewpoint and a unifying and tonal colour scheme, which in the 1630s was usually limited to warm browns and olive greens, interspersed with the cool grey of his chosen metallic object(s) and the yellow of a lemon. His still lifes are not simply decorative depictions of a collection of random objects, but are intended to convey a deeper meaning, usually alluding to the transience of human life or perhaps allegorising the five senses. The artist's tendency towards greater simplicity of composition could well have been borne of a more widespread move away from ostentation and towards sobriety and restraint in Dutch society, in tandem with political and religious tendencies in the Netherlands during the mid-seventeenth century.
Martine Brunner-Bulst dates the present work to 1632. She writes in her 2004 monograph on the artist (see Literature) that Claesz’s works of the early 1630s demonstrate a sense of balance and harmony through the artist’s mastery in representing a high level of detail while retaining a clarity of composition and a balance of lighting effects.
1632 was also the year in which Claesz’s notable rival Willem Claesz Heda first appropriated motifs from Claesz for his own breakfast piece; he continued to borrow ideas from Claesz throughout the 1630s and '40s. Heda too was reaching his artistic maturity in the early 1630s, and while we have scant documentary evidence of their relationship, they are assumed to have known each other and each other’s work very well, and so began the founding of the distinguished tradition of still-life painting in Haarlem established by the two men.
A painting, also on panel but of slightly larger dimensions (56 x 72 cm.), that bears much in common with the composition of this ontbijtje is recorded as last having been sold Berlin, Lepke, 24 April 1909, lot 73.1 The main differences between the two pictures is the Lepke painting's inclusion of a partially eaten pie in the centre, and the replacing of the lemon with two peaches.
1 RKD Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis online reference number: 185198.
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