These unpublished works are characteristic examples by one of the most prolific Flemish still-life painters of his generation. Jan van Kessel was born into the Breughel dynasty of painters, being the grandson of Jan Breughel the Elder and the nephew of his first teacher Jan Breughel the Younger. He joined the Antwerp guild of St. Luke in 1634 as a pupil of Simon de Vos. At the age of eighteen he became an independent master, registering in the guild as a 'blomschilder' (flower painter). His dated works range from 1648 to 1676, treating subjects that include animals (mostly birds, fish and insects), flowerpieces, fruit, vegetables, game, as well as wreaths and garlands, the latter often executed in collaboration with other artists. At the same time he fathered thirteen children by his wife Maria van Apshoven, whom he married in 1647.
Although the early history of the present pair is unknown, they have been in Spain for at least two generations and it is tempting to assume that they had been there since shortly after they were painted. Van Kessel developed a thriving market in Spain. Although he never actually lived there, he was in contact with several important Spanish patrons who may have been introduced to his art in the years around 1650 through Daniel Seghers. As van Kessel's popularity in Spain grew, it seems that an increasing number of works were sent there to meet demand. These well preserved examples are larger and more highly finished than the vast majority of the artist's fruit still-lifes, owing more to the art of his teacher Jan Breughel the Younger than to Daniel Seghers. These factors would both suggest a plausible dating in the mid-1650s.
We are grateful to Fred Meijer of the RKD for confirming the attribution after inspection of the originals.