Sale, Petit, Paris, Thirion, 10 June 1907, lot no. 2
Bought by Kleinberger & Co., New York
Marzcell von Nemes, Budapest, by 1907
Karl Lanz, Mannheim, by 1917
Sale, Galerie Fischer, Lucerne, 23 July 1923, lot no. 866
With Vermeer Gallery, London, 1927/28
With van Diemen & Co., Amsterdam-Berlin, 1928
Anton Jurgens, London, by 1929
F. Jurgens, Egham, Surrey
With Reinhardt and Co., New York, 1931
With Duits Ltd., London, by 1973
With Thomas Brod Gallery, London, by 1987
Private Collection, U.S.A
Private Collection, Belgium, until 2012
'Notable Works of Art now on the Market': Supplement, Burlington Magazine, LI,
no. 297, December 1927, pl. 22.
F. Lewis, A Dictionary of Dutch and Flemish Fruit and Still-Life Painters,
15th to 19th Century, Leigh-on-Sea, 1973, p. 13, pl. 32.
S. Segal, A Prosperous Past, The Hague, 1989, pp. 172-173, 219, note 11, pl. 9.3
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, 1910-1911, no. 44
Aus Rheinisch-Westfalischem Privat-Besitz, Dusseldorf, Alter Malerie,
January-February 1928, no. 6
Dutch Art 1450-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1929, no. 249
Kerst Tentoonstelling Nederlandse meesters uit particulier bezit, Museum
Het Prinsenhof, Delft, 21 December 1952-1 February 1953, no. 4
Abraham van Beyeren was born in The Hague in 1620 or 1621. Although he lived there for much of his life, he was a restless soul who moved about often, living at various times in Leiden, Delft, Amsterdam, Alkmaar and finally Overschie, where he died in 1690. Primarily a painter of still lifes, van Beyeren had started out painting seascapes and river views. His broad, flowing brushwork and liquid touch gives his work a distinctive character and sets him apart from most of the still-life painters of his day, who inclined towards a smoother, more precise technique. This looseness of style probably explains why his works commanded relatively low prices during his lifetime, for it was generally the case in the seventeenth century that the more detailed and polished the execution of a painting the higher its value. As a consequence, van Beyeren regularly experienced financial problems and may have been forced to adopt an itinerant lifestyle in order to escape from his creditors. Nevertheless, it is his very directness and spontaneity that appeals to modern tastes.
This large and impressive still life is one of the most beautiful examples of van Beyeren’s art. A profusion of rare and costly objects is arranged on a table covered by a plum-coloured velvet cloth and white linen napkin. Standing at the back on the right, is an elaborate silver flagon and a façon-de-Venise glass, while on the left, appears a finely wrought gilt cup, or krulbeker, decorated with a silver dolphin and the figure of Fortuna. In the centre of the composition, is a silver plooi-platter, laden with peaches, grapes and foliage, while to the left, is a wan-li style blue and white porcelain bowl, filled with bread and an overturned roemer, and to the right, is a scalloped-edge silver dish, or puntschotel, bearing a partly peeled lemon. Among the other delicacies spread across the table are cherries, a large crab, a lobster and a prawn. In the centre, close to the edge of the table are two full-blown pink roses and an open pocket watch, with a dangling blue ribbon. A curtain is looped up at the upper left, revealing a small niche in which appear two delicate glass vessels. The brushwork is exceptionally free – for example, in the richly modelled folds of the white linen cloth and velvet table cover and in the silver flagon with its reflections of the studio window - and the colour harmonies unified by a soft, natural light. Gilt and silver, porcelain and crystal, velvet and linen, flowers, fruit and crustaceans – all are beautifully observed and rendered in accordance with their intrinsic natures and textures.
In the seventeenth century, opulent banquet-pieces of this type, with their abundant displays of exotic vessels and delicacies, were known as pronkstilleven. The word pronk is perhaps best translated as “ostentatious” or “showy”, but it also implies an object which is beautiful and rare and not for everyday use. This exuberant genre owes its creation to Jan Davidsz. de Heem, a Dutch-born painter who had settled in Antwerp in the mid-1630s. In the following decade, the grandiose still lifes of rare and costly objects that he painted in his Antwerp studio had an immediate impact on his contemporaries, both in the Northern and Southern Netherlands. Like others of his generation, Van Beyeren succumbed to his influence and began to paint large and ambitious still lifes with pronk elements. His works, however, never lose their unique and distinctive character: his palette is always more muted than de Heem’s and his handling of paint more fluent and broadly brushed.
This nearly square canvas is an outstanding example of the sumptuous pronk still lifes for which van Beyeren is justly renowned. Painted in 1654, it belongs to a group of closely related compositions which the artist executed around that time. Many of the individual elements depicted here recur in other paintings in the group, but in new and varied arrangements. The elegant silver wine flagon, for example, obviously a favourite piece, is repeated in no less than eight paintingsi, while the façon-de-Venise glass, gilt krulbeker, silver-plooi platter and the puntschotel all crop up, though less often, in other still-life paintings from this period. In a very similar work, also of 1654, in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, in Rotterdam, the silver flagon, the façon-de-Venise glass and the gilt cup are repeated in more or less the same positions, although certain other motifs, such as the wan-li porcelain bowl, the large crab and the puntschotel, have been moved about in order to vary the arrangement. Likewise, the same gilt cup, Venetian-style glass and two silver platters feature in a similarly conceived painting of 1655, in the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusettsii.
Van Beyeren’s sumptuous banquet invites us to feast our eyes, but it also contains a moralising message for those who are initiated. For the contemporary viewer, the open pocket watch – an almost obligatory footnote in van Beyeren’s pronk still lifes - would have suggested the transience of all the lovely objects spread around it. Likewise, the flowers which will soon fade, the overturned wine glass and the figure of Fortuna that decorates the gilt cup, are all vanitas motifs that serve as reminders of mortality and the vanity of all worldly things. Ironically, amidst such luxury the timepiece may also have been intended as an admonition to temperance, a theme echoed in the modestly filled Venetian-style glass.
i Sam Segal, A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in The Netherlands 1600-1700, 1988,
p. 176, note 20.
ii Abraham van Beyeren, Banquet Still Life, signed and dated 1655, on panel, 114 x 85 cm, Worcester
Art Museum, Massachusetts.