The Dutch painter Hubert van Ravesteyn was baptized in 1638 in Dordrecht, where he was active throughout his career. In 1669, he married Catherina van Meurs, and they lived on the Hofstraat from 1670 until 1672. Van Ravesteyn is known for his rustic barn interiors with prominently featured peasants or animals, and still-lifes of fruit and vegetables set within kitchens or barns. From the 1660s, he began painting more elegant still-lifes featuring velvet tablecloths trimmed with gold, expensive Chinese porcelain bowls and white stoneware vessels, such as those depicted in the present picture. Set against a neutral dark background and illuminated by an unusually cool light, these carefully arranged still-lifes are subdued in mood and reveal Van Ravesteyn's characteristic precision in the rendering of minute details, such as the variegated walnut shells and the woody husk around the meat of the exposed nut. The present work also shows Van Ravesteyn's remarkable skill in capturing the effects of light on various surfaces, such as the subtle play of highlights and shadows on the jug and its silver mount, and the gleaming reflections on the ivory-handled knife. Two Amsterdam artists, Jan Jansz. van de Velde (circa 1627-1672) and Jan Fris (1619/20-1663) were producing similar still-lifes in the mid-17th century, suggesting that Van Ravesteyn may have lived for a period in Amsterdam (Dordrecht 1992, op. cit., p. 261).
Van Ravesteyn typically repeated motifs: the Delftware pitcher, red marbled tabletop and porcelain bowl with walnuts recur, for example, in Still life with smoking paraphernalia, Delft jug and dish with nuts of 1670 in the Dordrechts Museum (inv. DM/981/571) and in Walnuts, a tobacco packet, and a white jug on a table of 1671 in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada. The prominence of the walnuts in both pictures may reflect Van Ravesteyn's awareness of a print in Joris Hoefnagel's Archetypa with the humorous Latin epigram 'Alea parva Nuces, et non damnosa videtur; Saepe tamen pueris abstulit illa nates' (gambling with nuts [often used as dice] is thought a harmless game, but it has also raised welts [like the bumps on the walnuts].) Similarly, the pink rose, in full bloom at the height of its beauty, might have been intended to allude to the transience of earthly things, a common theme in 17th-century Dutch still-life painting. Apparently this rose was not always in fashion, however, as it was over-painted with an orange - now removed - when sold in 1961 (see Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 17-18 December 1968, lot 161). Whether appreciated for their sly iconography or sheer beauty, still lifes of this type were produced by Van Ravesteyn in abundance, suggesting that they were held in high esteem by his Dordrecht clientele.