A Still Life with Grapes, a Melon, an Orange, Plums and Oysters in a stone Niche
Joris van Son
Signed and dated, lower centre, on the cartouche: J. VAN. SON/ 1654
On canvas, 23 x 17 ins. (60 x 44.4 cm)
Sale, Fred. Muller, Amsterdam, 29 June 1920, lot 28. Where acquired by the grandfather of the previous owner
A huge bunch of black grapes hangs from a nail before a stone niche. The magnificent cluster of fruits is still attached to the stem of the vine, complete with furling leaves and tendrils. Arranged on a stone ledge below are some green grapes, a gourd, an orange, a branch of plums, and some cherries and oysters. The composition is enlivened by several insects: a moth, a butterfly and a chafer grub cling to the greenery, a fly has alighted on the orange and a spider, suspended from a silken thread, catches the light.
Although there is no evidence that Joris van Son was a pupil of Jan Davidsz. de Heem, he was undoubtedly one of de Heem's most accomplished followers and may well have worked in the latter's studio at some stage in his career (i). Whether or not this was the case, van Son's work bears witness to the profound influence of the celebrated master. Van Son, like de Heem, specialised in still lifes and is best known for his masterful renditions of fruit, which invariably feature prominently in his paintings. His repertoire includes garlands of flowers and fruit, Vanitas still lifes, large-scale banquet pieces and smaller, more modest fruit pieces, of which our painting is a characteristic example. Van Son produced a number of similar compositions, particularly in the 1650s, which were probably intended for the open market. During this period, we know that he was supplying paintings for the Antwerp dealer, Matthijs Musson: the dealer's surviving accounts books record that, in 1657-58, he acquired five fruit pieces from van Son, destined for export to Paris (ii).
Van Son's smaller fruit pieces are characterised by their compact arrangement of fruit and other objects, here placed within the architectural framework of the niche, but more often near the corner of a table. Within a relatively narrow range of subject matter, the artist endlessly varied his compositions, sometimes adding a bread roll, or a glass of wine, a herring or a crab, or at other times, a partly peeled lemon, a pomegranate, a handful of nuts or some berries. Scarlet cherries tumbling forward are a recurring motif in van Son's work, as is the arching vine stem, which is virtually a signature element. Indeed, the artist seems to have relished portraying similar combinations of objects, without repeating himself, re-arranging them and re-discovering them, time and again. Two paintings which bear a close comparison with ours are A Still Life of Fruit and Corn hanging by a Ribbon, of 1654, in the collection of the National Trust at Kingston Lacy (iii) and a Still Life of Grapes, Peaches, a Pomegranate and other Fruit hanging before a Stone Niche, sold at Sotheby's, in New York, on 9 June 2011 (iv).
Here, the rich colour harmonies and lavish treatment of surface textures make an immediate appeal to our senses. The rich reds, orange and yellow of the fruits are a contrast to the tints of greens in the foliage and the gourd, while the softly modelled forms convey a sense of volume and ripeness. Throughout, the artist displays the technical mastery of his craft in the description of textural effects, from the succulent oysters in their smooth, white shells, to the nubble of orange peel and the milky bloom on the skins of the grapes and plums. At the same time, the niche setting, with its window-like opening close to the picture plane and trompe l'oeil scrollwork below, enhances the picture's illusionism. The artist's signature and the date of 1654, which appear on the central cartouche, as if carved in the stone, add to this effect. In another time-honoured trick of still-life painters, van Son has carefully positioned certain items in such a way that they project forward over the front of the ledge into the viewer's space. By the same token, the huge bunch of grapes, hanging before the dark interior of the niche, looms large before our eyes, tempting us to reach out and sample a sweet, juicy treat.
Joris van Son was born in Antwerp and baptised in Notre Dame on 24
September 1623. His teacher is not recorded but he was clearly
influenced by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, who was working in Antwerp from
1635/36. In 1643 he was accepted as a member of the painters' guild
and, in 1647, he became a member of the pious bachelor society,
Sodaliteit van bejaerde Jongmans. In 1656, he married Cornelia van
Heulens and two years later a son, Jan Frans, was born, who also became a
painter. As well as teaching his son, he trained five apprentices
between 1652 and 1665, including Jan Pauwel Gillemans II, the son of his
friend and colleague of the same name. According to Jan Meyssens, his
contemporaries praised his work, noting that he was 'excellent in fruits
and flowers,' (v) and Cornelis de Bie, in a facile play on words,
compared him (Son) to the sun (sonne) (vi). He died in his native city
on 25 June, 1667.
i An identical and highly distinctive silver-gilt bekerschroef, which appears in several still lifes by Jan
Davidsz. de Heem also appears in five paintings by van Son, perhaps confirming the lattter's
presence in de Heemís studio at some stage in his career. See: Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Still Life with
Glass, Glass Stand and Musical Instruments, c. 1645, oil on canvas, 139.5 x 114.1 cm, The Hague,
Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst, Inv. NK2711 (on loan to the Centraal Museum, Utrecht) and Banquet
Piece with Shells and Instruments, signed and dated 1642, oil on canvas, 152 x 206 cm, Private
collection, Europe. See also: J. Welu in exh. cat. The Collector's Cabinet: Flemish Paintings from
New England Private Collections, Worcester, Worcester Art Museum, 1983-84 detailing the
paintings by van Son which include this elaborate bekerschroef with a putto riding on a dolphin.
ii Jan Denuce, Na Peter Pauwel Rubens, Documenten uit den Kunsthandel te Antwerpen in de XVII e
eeuw van Matthijs Musson, Antwerp, 1949, p. 199.
iii Joris van Son, A Still Life of Fruit and Corn hanging by a Ribbon, signed and dated 1654,
on canvas, 54.5 x 42 cm, The National Trust Collection, Kingston Lacy, England.
iv Joirs van Son, Still Life of Grapes, Peaches, a Pomegranate and other Fruit hanging before a Stone
Niche, signed, on canvas, 59.5 x 42.5 cm, sold at Sotheby's, in New York, on 9 June 2011, lot 73.
v Jan Meyssens, Images de divers hommes díesprit sublime, Antwerp, 1649. Portrait of J. van Son
painted by E. Quellinus and etched by C. Lauwers.
vi Cornelis de Bie, Het gulden cabinet van de edele vry schilder-const, Antwerp, 1661. Quoted in
Marie-Louise Hairs, The Flemish Flower Painters in the XVIIth Century, 1985, p. 401.
Joris van Son
1623 - Antwerp - 1667
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