Early Still Life Painting
Chronology : 1600-1609 1640-1649 1650-1659 18th century 1760-1769 1800-1809
1606 Flowers by Jan Brueghel
Tastes change. Religious wars bring a political suspicion towards religious themes. In Prague Rudolf II prefers the observation of nature to his political commitments. Hoefnagel draws and paints for that emperor some collections of flowers and animals.
Borromeo desired a representation of blossoms in the whole variety of their shapes and colors for brightening his living throughout the year, so enjoying nature even outside the blooming period.
Brueghel's artistic process is documented by his 1606 letters to Borromeo while a prototype painting was in progress.
After choosing the varieties of the flowers, he had to wait for their blossoming which was not simultaneous, in spring and summer. Each bloom in its full glorious development was added in its turn on the copper in a pre-defined position. They were drawn from nature without an intermediary drawing. In his quest for exactness he had also travelled to Brussels to observe some blossoms which were not available in Antwerp.
The referred masterpiece is now kept at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
It is an oil on copper 65 x 45 cm, a very large size for this technique at that time. The great variety of brilliant colors met the expectation of the cardinal. The overcrowding of the flowers in the vase is unrealistic : it is an artistic trick to escape the didactic alignments of Hoefnagel. Brueghel's intention was not mystical or scientific. He desired to compare the beauty of the flowers to that of gemstones and paid the utmost attention to colors and light. He was obviously happy with his achievement.
The major picture from the next year 1607 is now kept at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It is a 51 x 40 cm oil on panel, the best technique after the copper for the precision of the brushwork and the conservation of the pigments, less demanding in terms of skills. Customers were appealed by this novelty and Brueghel certainly painted a few panels in parallel.
A large oil on oak panel 67 x 51 cm was sold for £ 3.85M by Sotheby's on July 6, 2016, lot 11. It is a slightly later development with a looser and more pleasing arrangement of the flowers, dated circa 1608 by experts. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
The artist gave up soon although not before 1611 the painting of flowers by direct observation and these early works will then serve as modelli. The goal remains decorative. Other artists will add the use of flowers and small animals as symbols and also the arrangements inside wreaths.
1608 Flowers in an Oil on Copper by Bosschaert
2008 SOLD 5.8 MCHF including premium
Its author, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, is so named today to distinguish him from his son Ambrosius. The latter, and the Elder's two other sons Abraham and Johannes, also painted still lifes, but the best known of the family is perhaps Balthasar van der Ast, brother-in-law and pupil of the elder Ambrosius.
On 10 July 2002, Sotheby's achieved good results on works by these painters. A bouquet in a window, oil on copper of 28 x 23 cm by Ambrosius the Elder and typical of his work, had been sold £ 2.1 million charge included. The same day, an oval oil on copper of 1624 by Balthasar has almost reached 950 K £.
With a composition very similar as the copper to be sold by Koller, another oil on copper, by Ambrosius the Elder, 30 x 20 cm, was sold £ 1.75 million by Sotheby's in London in July 2000. It was on my taste more interesting than the Koller's, because the flowers were more numerous and less dispersed. In both works, the glass is almost identical.
It derives from these figures that the estimate given by Koller, 2.5 MCHF, is ambitious, but the auction house announced that the painting is in exceptional condition, after being kept for 150 years in the same collection.
POST SALE COMMENTS
Koller got a good result on these flowers by Bosschaert: 5 MCHF excluding charges, twice the low estimate.
This article will have a following:
A bouquet in a niche by Balthasar van der Ast, 48 x 36 cm, is the lot 16 of the sale of Zürichsee Auktionen in Erlenbach on September 24 (estimated 500 KCHF). As I said in the article above, Balthasar was the brother in law of Ambrosius Bosschaert.
Balthasar's painting was not sold.
1612 Roelandt Savery at the Court of Rudolf II
2012 SOLD 5.4 MCHF including premium
He is also one of the first artists to show still lifes of flowers. According to a design that will be copied many times, he arranges them as a tight bouquet in a vase located in a niche. Small reptiles and insects animate the scene.
Such a bouquet in a small oil on copper, 13.5 x 17 cm, dated 1612, is estimated CHF 2.8 million, for sale by Koller in Zurich on March 30. Here is the link to the catalogue.
This painting had been sold £ 1.76 million including premium by Sotheby's on 12 July 2001.
POST SALE COMMENT
Excellent price for this interesting painting despite its small size: CHF 4.7 million before fees, 5.4 million including premium.
This auction house often gets great results on old painting. In September 2008, a bouquet painted in 1608 by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder had been sold for CHF 5.8 million including premium.
1620 The Jovial Conspiracies of Isabella Brant
2018 SOLD for $ 5.7M including premium
The bearded satyr is in the prime of his life, with two thin horns on his forehead and pointed ears. The nymph is ready to grab a grape in the basket. The two characters do not look at each other but have the same jovial smile.
They are featured in other compositions of the same period. In a lost painting known through copies, the same nymph is naked under a transparent veil. Interestingly they are linked with two group scenes, Bacchanal and Drunken Silenus, both of which are disgusting images intended to make viewers aware of the consequences of debauchery.
The Bacchanal, 95 x 107 cm, is traditionally dated around 1615 and kept at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Our satyr is on the left, nude and drunk, supported with difficulty by a naked satyress with legs and hooves of a goat.
The Drunken Silenus is traditionally dated between 1616 and 1617. The surviving version 212 x 214 cm kept at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich is one of Rubens' most famous masterpieces. Around the staggering satyr, all the other characters at the top of the picture are laughing. Another version was destroyed in Berlin in 1945.
In Drunken Silenus the woman just behind the satyr emits a happy look of connivance towards the spectator as if it was she who had abused the weakness of the old male with grape and wine. She had the same role as the central figure in Lot and his daughters painted in 1614 who is busy to drunk her father. It is not a coincidence that the faces of these young women are similar : they are certainly portraits of the ever smiling Isabella Brant, the wife of Rubens.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
1629 The Art of Bodegon
2019 SOLD for $ 6.5M including premium
Sanchez Cotan wished to reproduce with the greatest pictorial accuracy some elements of nature that he positions in a balanced composition. Vegetables, fruit and game fowls are laying or hanging in a uniformly gray window frame against a black background. He had invented the bodegon, an unprecedented style in modern painting that anticipates Chardin and Cézanne.
Several originals survive. One of them is dated 1602. Another one, oil on canvas re-sized at 73 x 62 cm after removal of the central part, was sold for £ 4M including premium by Christie's on December 8, 2004.
The growing interest in botanical gardens and cabinets of curiosity led to the still life paintings of flowers and fruit in Flanders and Milan from 1606. In the 1620s the best Spanish continuator to Sanchez Cotan, Juan van der Hamen y Leon, inserts flowers in the bodegones.
In 1626 van der Hamen finds a trick to display complex arrangements in very large formats : he replaces Sanchez Cotan's window by three stone bases of varying heights and widths.
On May 1 in New York, Christie's sells a bodegon of fruit with a large vase of flowers, oil on canvas 86 x 132 cm painted by van der Hamen in 1629, lot 109 estimated $ 6M. Painted in the same year and style by the same artist, a bodegon of fruit with an artichoke, 79 x 100 cm, was sold for € 900K including premium by Christie's on October 6, 2004.
Banquet by de HEEM
1642 with Lobster
1988 SOLD for $ 6.6M by Christie's
Antwerp and Utrecht are 150 km apart and artistic links are strong between the two cities. The two most important painters of the new style, the Pronkstilleven, are Johannes van Antwerpen, born in Utrecht, who will be known as Jan Davidsz de Heem, and Adriaen van Utrecht, born in Antwerp.
Still life shows by definition perishable objects. The Pronkstilleven reinforces the message of vanity through the abundance of scarce foods, the unstable mess on the banquet preparation table and the presence of musical instruments.
De Heem was a member of the Antwerp guild in 1636, after having been trained in Utrecht and Leiden. Between 1640 and 1643, he realizes four monumental works, which will remain the largest of his career, at the apparent rate of one painting per year. His customers have not been identified.
Table of Desserts, oil on canvas 1.45 x 2 m preserved in the Louvre, appears as the first in this series. The imbalance of the objects on the crumpled tablecloth will inspire Cézanne's research and the "Nature morte d'après de Heem" painted by Matisse in 1915 is a modernist remake of this specific work.
The second painting is kept at the Municipal Museum of Brussels. The third is the Banquet Still Life with a Lobster, sold for $ 6.6M by Christie's on January 15, 1988.
2020 SOLD for £ 5.8M by Christie's
A later banquet still life, oil on canvas 140 x 115 cm painted by de Heem in his style of the mid 1660s with a brilliant light, was sold for £ 3.14M by Christie's on July 8, 2021, lot 21. It includes a string instrument in the foreground and a music sheet, representing the transitory pleasures in the midst of the exuberant luxury of the banquet artifacts.
A tabletop of flowers in a glass vase, oil on canvas 114 x 91 cm painted by de Heem ca 1665-1672, was sold for £ 3M by Christie's on July 3, 2012, lot 43.
#AuctionUpdate Jan Davidsz. de Heem's Dutch Golden Age masterpiece, 'A Banquet Still Life' achieved £5,666,000, a #WorldAuctionRecord for the artist. This is among the largest and most ambitiously conceived still-lifes in de Heem's oeuvre: https://t.co/nAOQidAZug pic.twitter.com/y6dBdJ0cvj— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) December 15, 2020
1644 Still Life by Heda
2014 SOLD for £ 4.8M by Christie's
For four decades, he worked a single theme: the still life of foods and utensils for breakfast on a tablecloth covering almost the entire table. This choice was perhaps inspired by his early training as a painter of vanities. The fruit is ephemeral and the utensil is permanent.
In the 1630s, his composition is rigorous, in a great simplicity which certainly inspired the minimalism of Coorte half a century later. The foods are strictly included within the perimeter lines of the table top. Only the higher part of the utensils and the hanging lemon peel are beyond this zone.
On July 8, 2015, Sotheby's sold for £ 2.95M an oil on panel 59 x 80 cm painted in 1633, lot 12. This artwork is a good example of Heda's improved realism through a subtle treatment of light. The contrasted areas in the background indicate where daylight comes from. The surrounding that escapes direct vision is however visible in the multiple reflections of a single window, in glasses, silverware and olives but not in pewter.
Subsequent compositions with a crumpled tablecloth and an increased quantity of objects are more complex. The artist desired to demonstrate that his control of geometry could be applied not only to order but also to disorder.
An oil on panel 81 x 102 cm painted in 1644 was sold for £ 4.8M by Christie's on July 8, 2014 from a lower estimate of £ 1.5M, lot 31.
It features a blackberry pie on a pewter platter, a silver-gilded cup and cover, an upturned tazza, a partly-peeled lemon, a bread roll, hazelnuts, a façon-de-Venise glass, a silver decanter, a roemer, and a knife on a pewter platter, on a partly draped table.
1653-1657 Young Woman holding a Hare by Dou
2023 SOLD for $ 7.1M by Christie's
On May 12, 2012, Lempertz sold for € 3.8M an allegory of painting signed by Dov in 1649. Sizing 68 x 53 cm, it is one of the largest works by the artist.
The old painter is installed in front of an easel, focused on his work. This is not a self-portrait : the artist was then 36 years old. Various sources of inspiration are arranged around him. Nature is represented by a big dead peacock, poetry by a flying Eros, knowledge by a book, art by a bust, interior scene by a metal pot and a heavy curtain. The workshop is beautifully lit, assessing the influence of Rembrandt.
The trompe-l'oeil arched window ledge is a preferred arrangement by the artist. On October 11, 2023, Christie's sells a painting staging a young woman, possibly a servant, holding a hare by its hind legs for hanging it at the hook with a boy attending.
The scene includes a tabletop in the foreground with a profusion of elements including a large basket of apples. By comparison of these reused figures with dated works, it may be dated between 1653 and 1657. No allegorical meaning is found and this work was possibly intended to demonstrate the skill of the artist in still lifes.
This oil on panel 53 x 38 cm was sold for $ 7.1M from a lower estimate of $ 3M in the sale of a Rothschild collection, lot 21. It had been confiscated by the Nazi to a Rothschild baron, acquired by Göring and restituted in 1946.
1730 Flowers in a Vase by Jan van Huysum
2006 SOLD for $ 7.3M including premium by Sotheby's
early to mid 1730s Still Life by Jan van Huysum
2003 SOLD for £ 4.9M including premium by Sotheby's
1761 Panier de Fraises des Bois by Chardin
2022 SOLD for € 24.4M by Artcurial
Following the path opened by Adriaen Coorte around 1700, Chardin opts for the simplest geometric tabletop compositions in a contrasted light in front of a dark raw background.
Le Panier de fraises des bois, oil on canvas 38 x 46 cm, was released for the Salon de 1761 and illustrated by Saint-Aubin in the livret of that exhibition. It displays a stack of wild strawberries as a spectacular conical tabletop in a basket. That vivid red fruit had been Coorte's preferred pictorial theme.
The composition is completed on the table by a glass filled with limpid water, and by two ornamental cut off flowers, two cherries and a peach. Chardin had skillfully added an upper layer of red lacquer to link together the grainy berries while he left slightly unfocused the carnations.
Recognized as a masterpiece of Chardin's maturity offering a perfect sharp viewing from an ideal distance of 5 m away, Le panier was kept in a private French collection since 1862. It was sold for € 24.4M from a lower estimate of € 12M by Artcurial on March 23, 2022, lot 15. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1808-1812 Dead Hares by Goya
2003 SOLD for $ 5.1M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
At 62, the artist no longer needs his art to earn a living and, in these difficult circumstances, he has fewer clients. He had a bulimia of innovations throughout his life. He is trying the theme of still life for the first time in his career.
The twelve still lifes painted by Goya surfaced after 1865. They had remained grouped together in the artist's estate and then in a mortgage which had ended in a transfer in favor of a business partner of Mariano, the grandson of the artist.
Goya had attempted in this set to completely renew the theme of still life. Dead animals are no longer decorative objects or hunting trophies, but beings whose lives have been violently taken by humans for culinary purposes. The beginning of the war is the terminus post quem. The terminus ante quem is their reference in an inventory in 1812.
Goya used the best of his pictorial technique, combining veils of color and heavy impastos, placed with brushes, knife and fingers. The animals are different on each opus. The realistic flesh ready for decomposition attests to the importance of death in the artist's creativity.
On January 24, 2003 Christie's sold at lot 136 for $ 5.1M including premium an oil on canvas 45 x 63 cm showing two dead hares lying on top of each other on a table.