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Jan Fris

A Still Life with a stoneware Jug, a Glass of Beer, Playing Cards and Smokers’ Requisites

Jan Fris

Signed and dated, on the stone ledge, lower right: J. Fris 1665.
On panel, 19 ¼ x 16 ½ ins. (49 x 42 cm)


Currently on loan to the Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC., U.S.A.


Collection P. Mantz
His sale, Paris, 10 May 1895, lot 27 (as P. Fris)
Christie’s, London, 15 April 1983, Lot 21
David Koetser Gallery, Zurich, 1983
Noortman & Brod, London/Maastricht, 1984
Private collection, Germany, until 2012


Arthur K Wheelock, Still Lives of the Golden Age: Northern European Paintings from the Heinz Family Collection, exh. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1989, under cat. no. 29, p. 121, (illustrated fig. 3)


This painting is a fine and characteristic example of a still life by the rare Amsterdam painter Jan Fris.  It depicts one of his favourite subjects – a still life of smokers’ requisites, or toebackje, as they were called in seventeenth-century Holland.  Food, drink and smoking implements are displayed near the corner of a stone ledge.  At the centre of the composition are a stoneware jug and a tall glass of beer.  Beside them appear a pewter plate with shrimps, a broken brazier of glowing coals, two white clay pipes, a paper wrapper containing tobacco and a pack of playing cards: the six of hearts lies face upwards at the front of the ledge.  Behind the brazier lies a bundle of zwavelstokjes, the predecessors of matches, and in front of it, a small pile of ash, from which rises a thin wisp of smoke.  The artist has paid great attention to the details of surfaces and textures – the sheen of pewter, the sparkle of highlights on glass and glazed ceramics, the cracked stone ledge, the crumpled paper – while retaining a muted palette of browns, greys, ochre, terracotta and white.  The upright format is typical of Fris.  

Several of the objects depicted here, specifically the earthenware jug, the beer glass, the broken brazier and the clay pipes, must have been studio props, since they recur in other works by Fris.  The distinctive jug, bearing the coat of arms of Amsterdam, is of a type that was manufactured in the German Rhineland.  An identical vessel forms the central motif in at least four other paintings, including a signed and dated still life of 1650, in the Institut Néerlandais, Paris (i), a dated painting of 1660, formerly with the Brod Gallery, London (ii) and an undated work that was sold at Christie’s in London on 30 November 1973 (iii).  The tall cylindrical glass, with its distinctive spiral decoration, is called a pasglas and was used in drinking games.  The glass was filled with beer and passed around a group of friends, each of whom was expected to drink down to the next ring in a single gulp.  Anyone, who failed to hit the mark had to drink a further measure.  In Fris’s day such glasses often feature in depictions of bawdy tavern scenes.  The long clay pipe is often referred to as a Goudse pijp in Dutch, owing to the fact that Gouda was for a long time the main centre in The Netherlands for the manufacture of such pipes.   

This type of tobacco still life was an invention and speciality of the Dutch ‘tonal’ still life painters and can probably be traced to the Haarlem painter Pieter Claesz.’s work of the 1630s.  The immediate inspiration for Jan Fris was, however, more likely the work of his slightly older Amsterdam colleagues Jan Jansz. Treck (c. 1606-?1652) and Jan Jansz. van de Velde (1619/20-1662/64).  In his choice and arrangement of objects, as well as in his colouring, Fris’s style is especially close to that of van de Velde.   

The theme of such paintings can probably be explained in several ways.  Taken together, the objects depicted here suggest an evening of drinking, smoking and playing cards.  Enjoyable though such pastimes may be, they were also considered minor vices in the seventeenth century and associated with idleness (smoking and drinking) and deceit (cards).  Thus still lifes of this type could serve as a warning against excessive indulgence in such pleasures, with the pasglas referring to temperance, or keeping measure.  In addition, such motifs as the broken brazier and the smouldering ash contain vanitas associations that allude to the transience of human existence: life is as fleeting as a wisp of smoke.  


Very little is known about the life of Jan, or Johannes, Fris.  The son of Gerrit, he was born in Amsterdam in c. 1627.  The approximate year of his birth has been deduced from two documented declarations of his age (iv).  He was married in Amsterdam in 1649 and acquired citizenship there two years later.  He was buried in the same city on 9 July 1672.  His work provides the best testament of his existence: he left a small oeuvre consisting almost exclusively of still lifes (v), many of which are signed and dated, with dates ranging from 1647 to 1672.  His favoured subjects were still lifes of smoking utensils, breakfast pieces and vanitas still lifes.


i  Jan Fris, Still Life of Smoking Requisites, signed and dated 1650, on panel, 42 x 32.5 cm, Institut Néerlandais, Paris.
ii  Jan Fris, Still Life of Smoking Requisites, signed and dated 1660, on panel, 44.5 x 38 cm., Brod Gallery, London.  
iii  Jan Fris, A Still Life with an earthenware Jug, a Glass, a Pipe, a Walnut and other Objects on a stone Ledge, on panel, 53.3 x 40.6 cm, Christie’s, London, 30 November 1973, lot 22.
iv  A. Bredius, Künstler-Inventäre, The Hague, 1915-22, p. 1990.
v  He also painted a few portraits.  See his Portrait of the Tax Collector Marcellis Wttewael, dated 1650, in Dutch Seventeenth Century Portraiture: The Golden Age, exh. cat., The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, 1980-81, cat. no. 20. 

Jan Fris

c. 1627 - Amsterdam - 1672

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