Around the turn of the 17th century, a number of Flemish painters presented sumptuous tabletop still lifes to delight the viewer, and none surpassed Osias Beert. The carefully crafted objects and expensive delicacies that he depicted celebrate a world of abundance and beauty in a style that shows off Beert's mastery of textural effects and realistic detail.
The 11 oysters arranged upon the pewter plate are striking examples of this realism: their amorphous forms appear to be so liquid that one can readily imagine the oysters slipping from their pearly white shells. Nearby, two exotic shells emphasize the exceptional rarity of the objects and foods arrayed on the table. Luxurious sweets decorated with gold leaf fill the Wan-Li bowl in the foreground, while raisins, figs, and almonds overflow two other Ming-period bowls. Elegant sweets, including candied cinnamon bark and candied almonds that have been colored yellow, pink, and green, fill a ceramic tazza. Quince paste, which was stored in simple, wooden boxes, was another delicacy enjoyed at special festivities. The elegant Venetian-style glasses made by Flemish craftsmen hold red and white wine, so appropriate to this feast.
Beert minimized overlapping these exquisite objects by composing his scene with a high vantage point, thus preserving the individual character of his compositional elements. He had a great sensibility to color, using warm tones for the succulent morsels and wine that he situated behind the cool blues and grays of the oysters and candies. His range of whites varies from the subdued, chalky tones of the exotic sweets to the glistening sheen of the oysters. Beert's artistry is also evident in his sensitive rendering of the oysters' reflections in the pewter plate and in the delicate modeling of the "façon de Venise" wine carafe, whose form reflects the light from his studio window.
Beert's mastery of illusionism and carefully arranged compositions were the hallmarks of his style. He frequently revisited this format, subtly modifying the types of foods and their arrangement across the table. Such lavish still lifes are joyous, grand and proud visual statements of the material wealth and comforts of life among the elite of Flanders.
Marks and Labels
(Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam); purchased 1952 by private collector, Sweden; by inheritance to his son, Sweden; (sale, Sotheby's, London, 6 July 1994, no. 17); (Johnny Van Haeften, London); purchased 24 May 1995 by NGA.
- Dutch Cabinet Galleries, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1995-1996, no cat.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 5.
- Still-Life Paintings from the Netherlands 1550-1720, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1999-2000, no. 8, repro.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Pieter Claesz: Master of Haarlem Still Life, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; Kunsthaus Zürich; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2004-2005, not in cat. (shown only in Washington).
- Bergström, Ingvar. "Osias Beert the Elder." In Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings. Johnny van Haeften, ed. London, 1994: no. 3 (unpaginated).
- Jeromack, Paul. "Acquisitions: Washington Gathers Flowers." Art Newspaper 7 (October 1996): 9.
- Yapou, Yonna. "Dutch Acquisitions in Washington." Apollo 144, no. 418 (December 1996): 20.
- Hochstrasser, Julie Berger. "Feasting the Eye: Painting and Reality in the Seventeenth-century 'Bancketje.'" In Alan Chong and Wouter Th. Kloek. Still-Life Paintings from the Netherlands 1550-1720. Exh. cat. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Cleveland Museum of Art, 1999: 73-85.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 226-227, no. 180, color repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 2-4, color repro.