Overview

In 1648 a contemporary writer noted that Willem Claesz Heda was a specialist in breakfast and banquet still lifes, painting "fruit, and all kinds of knick-knacks." At first sight, Heda's largest known still-life painting appears to welcome the viewer to a sumptuous feast. Yet pewter plates teeter precariously over the table's edge, while a translucent goblet and a silver tazza have toppled over, indicating that the feast has already been enjoyed. A number of objects in the painting hint at the transience of worldly existence. For example, the snuffed-out candle and the iron candle snuffer symbolize the abruptness by which life can end.

Heda was a master of uniformly cool-gray or warm-tan color schemes favored in Dutch art during the 1630s. The gold, silver, pewter, and Venetian glass on top of the white tablecloth play against the neutral backdrop of the wall and the brown drape that covers the table. Starting in the mid-1600s, brighter colors would characterize the classical period of Dutch painting.

Willem Claesz Heda taught several apprentices, including his son Gerret (or Gerrit) Willemsz Heda (active 1640s and 1650s); the "sz" at the end of Claesz and Willemsz is an abbreviation for szoon, meaning "son of". Gerret's Still Life with Ham that is part of the National Gallery’s collection reveals a strong debt to his father Willem's style and motifs.

Inscription

lower right on edge of tablecloth: .HEDA.1635.; lower left on edge of tablecloth: (unidentified monogram) [1] [1] This unidentified monogram is an unusual feature of this painting, as it does not appear to be an artist’s monogram. Dr. Pieter Biesboer, former curator at the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, has suggested (verbally) that it is the mark of the linen maker.

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Private collection, the Netherlands; acquired 1948 by private collection; by inheritance to a subsequent owner;[1] (sale, Ader-Picard-Tajan, Paris, 22 June 1990, no. 39); purchased by (Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna; Bruno Meissner, Zurich; and Otto Naumann, New York); sold 27 February 1991 to NGA.

Exhibition History

2004
Pieter Claesz: Master of Haarlem Still Life, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; Kunsthaus Zürich; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2004-2005, not in catalogue (shown only in Washington).

Bibliography

1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 99-102, color repro. 101.
1997
Brusati, Celeste. "Natural Artifice and Material Values in Dutch Still Life." In Looking at Seventeenth-century Dutch Art: Realism Reconsidered. Edited by Wayne E. Franits. Cambridge, 1997: 145, fig. 92.
2000
Kirsh, Andrea, and Levenson, Rustin S. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. New Haven, 2000: 262.
2003
Gregory, Quint (Henry D. Gregory V)."Tabletop still lifes in Haarlem, c. 1610-1660: a study of the relationships between form and meaning." Ph.D. diss., Dept. of Art History and Archaeology, University of Maryland, College Park, 2003: 3-18 and passim.
2004
Gregory, Quint (Henry D. Gregory V). "A Repast to Savor: Narrative and Meaning in Pieter Claesz's Still Life." In Pieter Claesz : master of Haarlem still life. Edited by Pieter Biesboer. Exh. cat. Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; Kunsthaus Zürich; National Gallery of Art, Washington. Zwolle, 2004: 107, fig. 1.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 192-193, no. 153, color repro.

Conservation Notes

The support, a medium-weight, plain-woven fabric that is heavily textured. It is unlined, but because it was delicate, with small tears and fraying where folded over the stretcher, it was strip-lined when the painting was treated in 2011. Small patched holes are found in the upper right corner and in the glass ewer at center. The paint layer continues onto the original tacking margins, suggesting it was painted on a stretching frame.

The support was prepared with a thick mustard-colored ground layer, which is employed as a mid-tone in some passages, namely in the tablecloth. The paint was applied in smooth wet-over-dry layers with impasted highlights. Glazing and fine, opaque scumbling was used to create the transparency of the glass objects. Further texture and definition were given to the reflection of the glass and metallic objects by the application of carefully placed highlights.

The painting is in good condition. A discolored varnish layer was removed during the 2011 treatment. Scattered small losses and areas of slight abrasion were inpainted at that time as well .

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