Lot 73
  • 73

LUIS MELÉNDEZ | Still life with a plate of azaroles, fruit, mushrooms, cheese and receptacles

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Still life with a plate of azaroles, fruit, mushrooms, cheese and receptacles
  • signed with initials on the jar in the centre: L.s M.z D.zo
  • oil on canvas


M.D. Carey, Guernsey, by 1965;
By whom sold London, Sotheby’s, 24 March 1965, lot 76, for £6,000 to Hallsborough;
With the Hallsborough Gallery, London;      
From whom acquired by the present owner on 12 November 1965.


Seville, Hospital de los Venerables, and Madrid, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Pintura española recuperada por el coleccionismo privado, December 1996 – February 1997 and February–April 1997, no. 64;
Oviedo, Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, Pinturas recuperadas, 5 May – 8 June 1997, no. 38.


E. Tufts, A Stylistic Study of the Paintings of Luis Meléndez, doctoral thesis, Institute of Fine Arts, New York, 1971, pp. 183–84, cat. no. 59;
E. Tufts, 'Luis Meléndez, Still-Life Painter ‘Sans Pareil’', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, series VI, 100, 1366, November 1982, p. 162, cat. no. 77;
J. Luna, Luis Meléndez, Bodegonista Español del Siglo XVIII, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, Museo del Prado, 1982–83, p. 39;
E. Tufts, Luis Meléndez. Eighteenth-Century Master of the Spanish Still Life, Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1985, p. 100, cat. no. 76;
J. Luna, ‘Novedades y cuadros inéditos de Luis Meléndez’, in El arte en tiempo de Carlos III, IV, Jornadas de Arte, Departamento de Historia del Arte “Diego Velázquez”, Madrid, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1989, p. 375;
J. Luna, Los alimentos de España en la pintura de bodegones de Luis Meléndez, Madrid 1995, pp. 120–21, cat. no. 32;
A.E. Pérez Sánchez and B. Navarrete Prieto in Pintura española recuperada por el coleccionismo privado, exhibition catalogue, Madrid 1996, pp. 166–67, cat. no. 64, reproduced;
A.E. Pérez Sánchez, Pinturas recuperadas, exhibition catalogue, Oviedo 1997, pp. 108–109, cat. no. 38;
P. Cherry, Luis Meléndez: Still Life Painter, Madrid 2006, p. 539, cat. no. 76, reproduced p. 456.

Catalogue Note

This outstanding work by one of the greatest still-life painters of the eighteenth century, Luis Meléndez, is a variant of a picture today in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, that formed part of the celebrated series of some 44 still lifes commissioned by the Prince of Asturias, the future Charles IV, for his Cabinet of Natural History in the Royal Palace, Madrid. In the detailed rendering of the still-life elements, the solidity of the objects and simplicity of the composition, the painting continues the rich still-life tradition of the Spanish Golden Age developed by the likes of Juan Sánchez Cotán and Francisco de Zurbarán, yet at the same time is imbued with a sense of modernity through the highly realistic treatment of the objects themselves that reflects the prevailing spirit of the Age of Enlightenment. Luis Meléndez came from a family of painters from Oviedo in Asturias. His father Francisco (1682–1758) spent two decades in Naples (where Luis was born in 1716) and following his return to Madrid was appointed official miniaturist painter to Charles III in 1725. Luis’ uncle Miguel Jacinto Meléndez (1679–1734) worked as a portrait painter in the employ of Philip V. Luis received his initial training under his father, producing miniature royal portraits in jewels and bracelets that were used as gifts for envoys and ambassadors, before entering the workshop Louis Michel van Loo (1707–1771), a French artist, who was the official court painter to Philip V, the first of the Bourbon Kings of Spain.

Meléndez’s development into an accomplished portrait painter is attested to by his remarkably assured self-portrait, today in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, which he painted in 1747 (fig. 1). The following year, however, he was expelled from the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid (which he had entered following its inauguration in 1744) as a result of a dispute between his father – an honorary director – and the Director of the Academy. With his aspirations to become a court painter in Madrid severely undermined by this quarrel, Meléndez decided to leave for Italy, and resided in Naples and Rome until 1752, where he painted some works (now lost) for Charles VI of Naples, the future Charles III of Spain.

Following Meléndez’s return to Spain he painted a variety of subjects, including religious works, but subsequent to his rejection for the position of court painter in 1760 he turned in earnest to the genre of still-life painting, a field in which artists without royal patronage or the support of the Royal Academy could earn a living. Between 1759 and 1772 Meléndez created one of the greatest assemblages of still lifes ever produced in western painting, a set of 44 works for the private museum of the Prince of Asturias, 39 of which are today in the Museo del Prado. The artist described these works as ‘an amusing cabinet with all types of foodstuffs that the Spanish climate produces’.

Among the great set of works painted for the future Charles IV is a variant of the present painting, of the same size, which is signed with initials (L.s M.z) and dated 1771. Indeed the Prince of Asturias' set of paintings provided a rich source of compositions and types that Meléndez subsequently reinvented in individual variants, presumably painted either on speculation, or as direct commissions from patrons who admired the royal set. In the absence of any known ricordi, it seems highly likely that variants such as this were produced while the prototype was still in the artist’s studio, thereby providing a likely dating for the present work of circa 1771–72.  

A comparison between the Prado version and the present painting reveals the extraordinary degree of creativity with which the artist produced his variants. While many of the key still-life elements in the present work recur in the Prado painting – namely the plate of azaroles, the cheese, wooden barrel, glass bottle and small pot – there are substantial changes to the overall composition. The introduction of new elements, in particular the group of pears and peaches on the right side, as well as the selection of mushrooms in the center foreground, prompted the artist to place the plate of azaroles further back within the composition than in the Prado version. Furthermore, throughout the painting there are innumerable changes to various details, from the blistering of the barrel, to the notches on the table top. By rendering the objects with great solidity and highly realistic surfaces, Meléndez has ennobled the still-life elements that by his own account he depicted as a celebration of the natural produce of Spain.