Willem Kalf was one of the most celebrated, sought after, and successful still-life painters of the seventeenth century. Despite the lack of documentary evidence that he operated a workshop with assistants, the existence of multiple replicas by less adroit hands indicates that Kalf did employ assistants during his years in Amsterdam. This Still Life with Nautilus Cup must be one of those workshop replicas. (Kalf’s original is lost.) The lesser quality of the painting is most evident in the lack of definition of the lemon rind and the relatively coarse rendering of the tapestry.
The nautilus cup, a polished turban shell mounted on an elaborately wrought, gilded-silver base in the form of a putto holding a horn of plenty, appears in a number of Kalf’s still lifes of the late 1660s. The turban shell, with its mother-of-pearl luminosity and symbolic association with a cornucopia, made it a particularly appropriate focal point for Kalf’s images of wealth and prosperity. The blue-and-white Wan-Li porcelain bowl with lid is decorated with colored figures representing the eight immortals of Taoist belief.
Kalf’s renown as an artist was such that during his lifetime he was eulogized in verse by Jan Vos and Joost van den Vondel; in the early eighteenth century,
For Jan Vos’ poem, written in 1654, see Lucius Grisebach, Willem Kalf, 1619–1693 (Berlin, 1974), 21; for Vondel’s poem, published in 1663, see Lucius Grisebach, Willem Kalf, 32. See also Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1980), 2:218–219; and Gérard de Lairesse, Groot schilderboeck, 2 vols. (Haarlem, 1740; reprint, Soest, 1969), 266–268.
Jurriaen’s son, Hendrick van Streek (1659–after 1719), also painted in the manner of Kalf. For a discussion of artists working in Kalf’s manner, see Ima Blok, “Willem Kalf,” Onze Kunst 35 (January–June 1919): 143– 145; and Fred G. Meijer, “In der Nachfolge von Willem Kalf,” in Gemaltes Licht: Die Stilleben von Willem Kalf 1619–1693, ed. Sylvia Böhmer (Munich, 2007), 150–155.
Lucius Grisebach, Willem Kalf, 1619–1693 (Berlin, 1974), attributes 147 paintings unreservedly to Kalf. He also lists various copies of these works, copies of lost originals, questionable works, and wrongly attributed paintings. He does not, however, discuss the workshop problem. Sam Segal, A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in the Netherlands, 1600–1700, ed. William B. Jordan, trans. P. M. van Tongeren (Delft, 1988), 180–181, writes that Kalf, “like De Heem, allowed his pupils to make copies of his paintings to which he himself would add the finishing touches.” Besides numerous copies by others, we also know of contemporary replicas signed by Kalf himself. Segal, however, does not present the evidence for his claim.
Even though Still Life with Nautilus Cup has many qualities of a Kalf composition, it must be one of these replicas.
Technical analysis shows that the signature was a later addition. Thus it is no assurance of authenticity.
Similar comparisons can be made with other paintings containing identical objects, such as the blue-and-white Chinese bowl in Kalf’s Still Life with Nautilus Cup in the Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
Lucius Grisebach, Willem Kalf, 1619–1693 (Berlin, 1974), 279, no. 140a. He gives no reason for having determined this work to be a copy. Doubts about the attribution have also been expressed verbally by Ingvar Bergström, Sam Segal, Claus Grimm, and Fred G. Meijer.
Sir Geoffrey Agnew, in a letter dated January 9, 1976, in NGA curatorial files, indicates that after Agnew's acquired this painting at Sotheby’s in 1964 (Sotheby’s sale catalog, March 11, 1964, lot 70, repro.), they determined after restoration that it was an “old copy.” Agnew’s subsequently sold the painting at auction on August 18, 1970. Its present location is unknown.
See, for example, Lucius Grisebach, Willem Kalf, 1619–1693 (Berlin, 1974), 286, nos. B6, B7, B8.
The compositional elements of the present work indicate that Kalf’s original composition must have been executed in the late 1660s.
Lucius Grisebach, Willem Kalf, 1619–1693 (Berlin, 1974), 279, however, explained the weakness of the painting that he considered to be the original by dating it to the end of Kalf’s career: “Qualitativ stellenweise recht schwaches Spätwerk.”
For an illustration, see Ivan Gaskell, Seventeenth-Century Dutch and Flemish Painting: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (London, 1990), no. 10, 74–77.
See, for example, his Still Life with Nautilus Cup (Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig). Lucius Grisebach, Willem Kalf, 1619–1693 (Berlin, 1974), 160, 276–277, no. 136, repro. 135, dates this painting to the late 1660s because of the dark tonality and the prevalence of gold tonalities in the work.
Although the bases of the Leipzig and National Gallery of Art paintings are similar, slight differences do occur. The turban shell, for example, sits directly on the head and hand of the putto in the Leipzig painting, whereas in the National Gallery of Art painting it is raised above the putto by three circular forms. Such free adaptations in the shapes of objects are common in Kalf’s paintings; a variant of this same base is used as a support for a glass in his Still Life, 1663, in the Cleveland Museum of Art (inv. no. 62.292; see Sam Segal, A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in the Netherlands, 1600–1700 [Delft, 1988], 195, 249, no. 56).
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
probably by another hand, lower left on edge of tabled: W.Kalf
Possibly G.L.M. van Es, Wassenaar. Probably Colonel Towers. (Leonard Koetser, London); sold 1946 to (Edward Speelman, London); sold 1950 or 1958 to (Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam); sold 1958 to Mr. W. Reineke, Amersfoort; re-purchased 1968 by (Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam), with a half-share sold to (Newhouse, London); sold 21 January 1969 by (Newhouse, London) to Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Smith, Washington, D.C.; gift 1974 to NGA.
- 1948 Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Masters, Eugene Slatter Gallery, London, 1948, no. 13.
- Zomertentoonstelling 1950, Pieter de Boer Gallery, Amsterdam, 1950, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Kunstbezit rondom Laren, Singer Museum, Laren, The Netherlands, 1958, no. 106, repro.
- Nederlandse stillevens uit de zeventiende eeuw, Dordrechts Museum, 1962, no. 65, repro.
- Extended loan for use by Secretary Michael Blumenthal, U.S. Department of Treasury, Washington, D.C., 1979-1980.
- Extended loan for use by Secretary G. William Miller, U.S. Department of Treasury, Washington, D.C., 1980.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 28.
- Eugene Slatter Gallery. Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Masters. Exh. cat. Eugene Slatter Gallery, London, 1948: no. 13.
- Pieter de Boer Gallery. Zomertentoonstelling 1950. Exh. cat. Pieter de Boer Gallery, Amsterdam, 1950: unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Boer, Rudolf G. de , D. P. R. A. Bouvy, and P. Eilers. Kunstbezit rondom Laren, 13de-20ste eeuw: schilderijen-beeldhouwwerken. Exh. cat. Singer Museum, Laren, 1958: no. 106, repro.
- Bol, Laurens J. Nederlandse Stillevens uit de 17e Eeuw. Exh. cat. Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht, 1962: 29, 71, no. 65, repro.
- "Les cours de ventes." Connaissance des Arts 166 (December 1965): 161, no. 12, repro.
- Grisebach, Lucius. Willem Kalf, 1619-1693. Berlin, 1974: 278-279, as copy of no. 140.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: Addenda to Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1980: no. 2676, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 213, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 149-152, color repro. 151.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. A Collector's Cabinet. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998: 35, 66, no. 28.
The support, a medium-weight, tightly and plain-woven fabric, is composed of irregularly spun threads and was originally stretched off-square. It has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed, although cusping present along all edges suggests that the original dimensions have been retained. The paint was applied over a smooth, thin beige ground in thin, fluid layers, with liquid washes and full-bodied pastes employed to simulate surface texture. Smooth surfaces were rendered with highlights blended wet-into-wet, while a thick paint and a fingerprint were used to texture the orange peel.
Dark passages such as the background are moderately abraded, particularly the darker design elements of the rug and sugar bowl. Minor losses are scattered at random. The signature at the lower left crosses over drying crackle but not the age cracks. It was added after the paint had dried, presumably by another hand. No conservation has been carried out since acquisition.
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