In their successful endeavors to convey a world of abundance and beauty, seventeenth-century painters presented sumptuous tabletop still lifes to delight the viewer's senses. Osias Beert was perhaps the most refined painter of this popular genre. The carefully crafted objects and expensive delicacies depicted by Beert celebrate his Flemish culture in a style that clearly articulates his mastery of textural effects and realistic detail.
The eleven opened oysters arranged upon the pewter plate are striking examples of this realism: their amorphous forms appear to be so liquid that one can almost imagine the oysters' easily slipping from their pearly white shells. Nearby, two exotic shells from distant seas emphasize the exceptional rarity of the foods in the expensive vessels arrayed on the table. Luxurious sweets decorated with gold leaf fill the Wan-li bowl in the foreground, while dried raisins, figs, and almonds overflow two other Ming period bowls. In the center, 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, round wooden boxes, was another delicacy enjoyed at special festivities. Both red and white wine, so appropriate to this feast, are visible through the transparent glass of the elegant Venetian-style vessels made by Flemish craftsmen.
Like many of his contemporaries, Beert minimized the overlapping of these exquisite objects by composing his scene with a high vantage point. This approach allowed him to maintain the individual character of each of his compositional elements and, significantly, to augment his splendid use of color. Drawing predominantly upon earth colors for his composition, Beert used warm browns for the succulent morsels and wine that he placed behind the cool blues and grays of the oysters and candies. His range of whites varies from the subdued, chalky tones he used to depict the exotic sweets in the foreground to the glistening sheen of the oysters. Beert's artistry is evident in his sensitive rendering of the oysters' reflections in the pewter plate and in the delicate modeling of the façon de Venice vessel of wine, whose form he enlivened with varied reflections from his studio window.
Beert's mastery of illusionism and his carefully arranged compositions were the hallmarks of his style. Once he had established a compositional format with which he was comfortable, he frequently revisited it, subtly modifying the types of foods and their arrangement across the table. Such lavish still lifes are joyous, grand pronouncements of the abundance and beauty of his culture, of which he was undoubtedly proud.
(Text by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
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.
Work of Art
Work of Art
- Event Name
- March 1–June 1
- Mon, Tues, and Wed at 1:00
- March 5, 2012 at 2:00
March 7, 2012 at 4:00
- East Building, Auditorium
- Name of docent
- 60 minutes
- Registration for this event begins on April 1, 2012 at noon.
- Download the program notes (100k)
- Italian Collection