A Still Life of Fruit, with a glass Roemer
Signed with monogram, lower right: HDL
On canvas, 32⅝ x 23½ ins. (83 x 59.7 cm)
One of a pair: see A Still Life of Oysters and a Fish, with a mounted faience Jug
Private Collection, Switzerland, until 2016
In this handsome pair of pronk still lifes – the Dutch word pronk meaning ostentation or elegance – Harmen Loeding presents two complementary displays of fine foodstuffs, glass and tableware. In both, a variety of objects appears near the corner of a wooden table, which is covered with a gold-fringed cloth, against the backdrop of a stone wall. In one, three fine glass drinking vessels appear on a table laden with luxury fruits: occupying a position at the back is a tall flute, while to its right stands a large roemer, and on the corner, a delicate, spiral-stemmed wine-glass. In front are piled peaches, bunches of black and white grapes, plums, vibrant red cherries and a melon, from which a slice has been cut. A wreath made from stems of laurel twined together encircles the large wine goblet. In the other, a white-glazed faience wine jug, with a pewter lid bearing a running dog, stands tall on the right, alongside a delicate facon-de-Venise wine-glass. Appearing in front on the table are a platters of oysters, another bearing a herring and onions, a large bread roll, an orange, a partly peeled lemon, a knife, grapes and some cherries.
Few details of Harmen Loeding’s life are documented. He was born in Leyden where he became a member of the guild in 1664 and is last recorded on 5 January, 1673. Nothing is known of his artistic training, but he clearly belongs to the circle of artists who were close to Pieter de Ring, all of whom fell under the spell of Jan Davidsz. de Heem. Although Arnold Houbraken claimed that de Ring took lessons from de Heem, there is no proof of this and by 1635 de Heem had in any case left Leyden and settled in Antwerp. De Ring was nevertheless profoundly influenced by de Heem and the still-life paintings he produced in Antwerp in the later 1640s and 1650s. A co-founder of the Leyden guild of painters in 1648, de Ring worked there for the rest of his life and can be credited with initiating a ‘de Heem school’ in Leyden, to which he himself, Harmen Loeding, Nicolaes van Gelder and Jan Mortel belonged. The artists from this circle painted predominantly still lifes with fruit and costly objects, characterised by a vivid attention to detail, strong colours, and theatrical lighting.
This exceptionally well-preserved pair exemplifies Loeding’s still-life paintings. The upright format and tightly packed, pyramidal arrangement of objects is a compositional scheme that he often employed. Here, the two paintings are mirror images of each other, with the corners of the tables facing inwards and the tallest objects balancing one another towards the outer edges of the canvases. Also characteristic is the use of strong lighting to create atmosphere and strengthen the illusion of pictorial space. A bright light enters from the left, casting a subtle play of light across the uneven surface of the stone wall in the background and enhancing the three-dimensional quality of the objects. This sense is further heightened by the judicious positioning of objects such as the branch of cherries, the loop of lemon peel, the knife handle and the pewter platters that project forward over the table edge, seemingly entering into the viewer’s space. The artist has gone to great lengths to display his mastery in rendering a rich diversity of materials and textures, as well as his ability to capture reflected light in a variety of objects. The painterly handling and rich palette reveal the artist’s debt to Jan Davidsz. de Heem.
A considerable proportion of Loeding’s small surviving oeuvre is devoted to works of this type. Evidently such sumptuous still lifes denoting wealth and high-class living were popular among the well-heeled citizens of Leiden. Whilst it is fashionable today to seek for a deeper meaning in Dutch 17th-century still-life paintings, there is no evidence here to suggest that Harmen Loeding intended to present us anything more than elegant, attractive displays of luxury items. However, the fact that the drinking glasses have been only half filled, could have been taken by contemporary viewers as an admonition to enjoy such luxury commodities in moderation. Similarly, the juxtaposition of grapes with bread and wine could have had Eucharistic connotations for those of a religious inclination.
Leiden circa 1637 - after 1673
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