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Heem, Jan Davidsz de (1606-1684)
Still-Life with Fruit, Flowers, Glasses and LobsterDate: 1660s
Theme: Still Life
Technique: Oil on canvas
Museum: Royal Museum of Fine Arts
Size: 87.5 x 72.5 cm;
On the edge of a niche, half covered by a bronze-coloured velvet cloth with a fringed edge, a large number of objects are presented in a highly studied fashion in such a way as to maximise the volume, colour and texture of each individual item and to produce sensuous contrasts: a luxuriant still-life that is a feast for the eyes. The base of the composition is formed by a Wanli egg-shell china bowl with fruits. We can make out an orange, a half peeled lemon, apricots, white and purple grapes, medlars and plums. To the right a lobster, flanked by peaches and apricots on a raw wood box. To the left a simple round box serves as a base for a half filled rummer. The presence of an elegant fluted glass, providing the top of the composition, is indicated solely by the light reflected on the narrow top. A third, bowl-shaped glass stands - scarcely visible - between the fluted glass and the lobster. A small collection of flowers - roses, a carnation, violets - forms a colourful point of light and a visual counterweight to the dominating red lobster to the left of the bowl. The visual gaps are filled and a lighter accent is added with smaller fruit, creepers, twigs, blades and insects: we see blackberries, medlars, hazelnuts, acorns, cherries, a bumble bee, caterpillars, butterflies and a dragonfly.
In the composition a number of ovals are enclosed in a triangle, which in turn is literally rounded off by the arch of the niche. A large diagonal traverses the whole ensemble, ending on the lower left on the lid of the reed basket. To the right of it, vine tendrils curl over the edge of a copper wine cooler.
For more than a hundred years this work of art was catalogued as being by Jan Davidsz. de Heem. Despite the undoubted quality of the piece, sealed with the master's name on the top left corner, a detailed stylistic investigation and a closer analysis of the signature by De Heem expert Fred G. Meijer have cast justified doubt on the true author. Recently a canvas from the Joseph Verner Reed collection was designated by him as the prototype for this and other, already known variants. Who painted this version remains for the time being an intriguing question: we do not immediately know any figure in De Heem's immediate and wider circle to whom to attribute this painting exploit.
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