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Juan de Zurbarán* (1620-1649)
Juan de Zurbarán* (1620-1649)

Apples in a wicker Basket with Pomegranates on a silver Plate and Flowers in a glass Vase on a stone Ledge

Juan de Zurbarán* (1620-1649)
Apples in a wicker Basket with Pomegranates on a silver Plate and Flowers in a glass Vase on a stone Ledge
oil on canvas
32 x 43in. (81.3 x 109.2cm.)
Denys Sutton, Esq., London and by descent to the present owner.

Lot Essay

The personality and importance of Juan de Zurbarán as a still life painter, whose style was quite distinct from that of his father have been undercovered in recent years, largely as a result of the seminal exhibitions curated by Dr. William B. Jordan at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, in 1985, and most recently by Dr. Jordan and Peter Cherry at the National Gallery, London, in 1995.

Francisco de Zurbarán's Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Cup of Water, signed and dated 1633 (Pasadena, California, The Norton Simon Foundation) is one of that artist's greatest works, and one of the great masterpieces of Spanish 17th Century art. Ironically, Francisco was not then, nor subsequently in his lifetime, particularly known as a still life painter, but the reputation of the Norton Simon painting was such that in the early decades of this century many other still lifes were incorrectly attributed to him, including the Still Life with Chocolate Service in the Museum of Western and Oriental Art, Kiev. It was only in 1938, during a cleaning of the Kiev painting, that Juan de Zurbarán's signature appeared, along with the date 1640, and Francisco's son regained a long-lost reputation as a still life painter of considerable talent. Juan was probably one of the first Sevillian painters to specialize to any real degree in still life painting, but at the age of 29, after a career that spanned only a decade, he died of the bubonic plague on June 8, 1649, in an epidemic that wiped out nearly half the population of Seville in a matter of months.

Only three signed paintings by Juan are known today - all still lifes dated between 1639 and 1643 - but a number of others have been securely attributed to him. These include the Plate of Grapes (signed and dated 1639), in a private collection, Bordeaux; Still Life with Chocolate Service (signed and dated 1640), Museum of Western and Oriental Art, Kiev; and Still Life with Basket of Fruit and Cardoon, (signed and dated 1643) in the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation, Mänttä, Finland (see the catalogue of the exhibition, Spanish Still Life from Velázquez to Goya, National Gallery, London, Feb. 22-May 21, 1995, pp. 106-08, nos. 39 and 41 and fig. 80 respectively); and the Still Life of Fruit in a Basket sold at Sotheby's, London, Dec. 6, 1989, lot 38 (£650,000=$1,027,000). The present painting, never before published or exhibited, can be ranked among his finest productions and represents a major addition to his oeuvre. Unlike his father's cerebral still lifes, Juan's paintings are characterized by a dramatic tenebrism and an earthy, sensuous quality which, although innately Spanish in feel, probably also reflect the impact of recent Neapolitan still lifes collected by Spanish aristocrats abroad. He typically used a dark background (see also, for example, the Kiev painting mentioned above) combined with a brightly lit foreground and well defined objects that emerge from the darkness in extraordinarily well-balanced compositions. Passages such as the reflected light on the flange of the silver plate and the reflections and highlights in the glass vase in the present painting are typical of the young artist's unerring observation of accidental detail - something entirely alien to his father's concerns.

The composition of the present painting has a monumentality and simple grandeur that is customary in the artist's oeuvre and can also be seen in his Basket of Apples and Quinces (unsigned) in the Museo de Arte de Cataluña, Barcelona (see the 1995 London exhibition, op. cit., fig. 82). Both paintings have massive, centrally placed baskets and a strong light combined with dark shadows which impart a very real sense of plasticity to the foreground objects. However, unknown in Juan's oeuvre is a floral bouquet as elaborate and beautiful as that depicted on the right hand ledge of the present painting. But the flowers in the picture, as well as the sensuous modelling of the fruit and foliage, do relate closely to the grand still life of Pears in a China Bowl in the Art Institute of Chicago, which was convincingly shown to be by the same hand as the Barcelona picture when both were exhibited side by side in the 1985 Fort Worth exhibition (see the catalogue of the exhibition, Spanish Still Life in the Golden Age, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth and The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, May 11-Nov. 3, 1985, p. 231, no. 44, plate 44 and pp. 238-40, no. 46, plate 46). The robust naturalism of these works no doubt dates from the final years of the artist's brief career between 1643 and 1649.

If Juan de Zurbarán had lived beyond his youth, he might have been known today as one of the great Sevillian masters of the 17th Century. As it is, the few still lifes that make up his small oeuvre rank him among the major still life painters of the Spanish School.

We are grateful to Dr. William B. Jordan for confirming the attribution.

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