Sunday, 25 March 2012


“Some partake of the bounty of the Lord’s favour, which never runs out, while others receive only a handful. Some sit upon thrones as kings, and enjoy constant pleasures, while others must beg for charity.” - Sri Guru Granth Sahib
 For Art Sunday today I am continuing the autumnal theme with a superb painting by Jan Davidszoon De Heem (1606-1684). He was the most important and influential of Dutch still life painters from about 1640 onwards. The painting here, “Still life with Fruit” (ca 1645) is representative of this artist and belongs to an iconographic style called Pronkstilleven (“sumptuous still life”), which he invented. It soon became very popular with the affluent merchants and aristocrats who reveled in the Netherlands’ trading bonanza in the Dutch East Indies. Many of the prosperous middle classes could afford the luxuries of life depicted in these paintings, and their homes were decorated with exotica and expensive furniture and draperies, as well as beautiful oil paintings that were produced in abundance by the many artists of the time.

This popular style of painting enlivened the rooms of many a Dutch home and underlined the owners’ wealth, if there were any doubt in the visitors’ mind. De Heem’s technical brilliance gives the work a seductive realism and the sumptuous scene makes one’s mouth water. Excepting the unseasonal cherries (but what painter could resist putting them in for effect?) all of the luscious fruits depicted are from the rich harvest of Autumn. This is a truly magnificent still life of the time, where the bounty of the earth and the generosity of providence are duly celebrated.

De Heem’s remarkable talent had gained him a considerable reputation and he was very well off himself. He could hardly satisfy the demand of the public for his work. His sons worked together with him in his workshop on the commissions for new paintings. He retouched their work and put his signature on the paintings. Apart from his three sons, he had several apprentices: Michiel Verstylen, Alexander Coosemans, Thomas de Klerck, Lenaert Rougghe, Theodor Aenvanck, Andries Benedetti, Elias van den Broeck, Jacob Marrel, Hendrik Schoock and Abraham Mignon who continued his work.

This painting can be admired in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

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