Willem Claesz. Heda (Haarlem 1594-1680)
Willem Claesz. Heda (Haarlem 1594-1680)

A leg of ham, a partly-peeled lemon and slices of bread on pewter platters, a berkemeier, an upturned tankard, a silver-gilt cup and cover, and other vessels on a partly-draped table

Willem Claesz. Heda (Haarlem 1594-1680)
A leg of ham, a partly-peeled lemon and slices of bread on pewter platters, a berkemeier, an upturned tankard, a silver-gilt cup and cover, and other vessels on a partly-draped table
signed and dated '·HEDA· 1655·' (lower centre)
oil on canvas
32¾ x 39 5/8 in. (83.2 x 100.6 cm.)
with Goudstikker, by 1919.
with G. Arnot, London, 1926.
Private collection, The Netherlands, by 1933.
Ir. C.Th.F. Thurkow, The Hague, by 1941.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 30 October 1979, lot 47.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 29 April 1985, lot 104, still with a landscape background from the late 17th century.
N.R.A. Vroom, De schilders van het monochrome banketje, Amsterdam, 1945, no. 207a, p. 213, as dated '1655 ?'.
M.R.A. Vroom, A Modest Message, as intimated by the painters of the 'monochrome banketje', Schiedam, 1980, no. 379a, as dated '1654'.
P. Mould, Sleepers: In Search of Lost Old Masters, London, 1995, pp. 46-50, figs. 11-12.
Amsterdam, Maatschappij voor Beeldende Kunsten, La collection Goudstikker d'Amsterdam, 14 December 1919-4 January 1920, no. 31.
Amsterdam, Kunsthandel Goudstikker, Het Stilleven, 18 February-26 March 1933, no. 132 as lent from a private Dutch collection.
Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, Nederlandse Stillevens uit vier eeuwen, 17 July-31 August 1954, no. 53.

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Alexis Ashot
Alexis Ashot

Lot Essay

Displaying an elegant blend of material opulence and colouristic restraint, this still life is fully characteristic of Willemn Claesz. Heda's very finest breakfast pieces. Along with his elder contemporary Pieter Claesz., the Haarlem-born Heda is credited with the invention of the monochrome still life, in which he adopted a narrow palette of greys, ochres, and browns with silvery highlights, and focused on simple everyday repasts, such as breakfast or ontbijtje. In this picture, the meal consists of a large joint of ham, studded with cloves, and cut from the bone with a knife that has been discarded to the right. An earthenware mustard pot with a serving spoon appears to the left. Two masterfully foreshortened slices of bread accompany a helping of ham on a pewter platter which is balanced on the edge of the table. A partly-peeled lemon, hazelnuts, a 'prunted' berkemeier filled with white wine and a glass of beer complement this meal.

By virtue of their number and popularity in Ducth Golden Age paintings, still lifes with ham earned their own designation in seventeenth-century inventories as hammetjes. Yet despite the apparent simplicity of the foodstuff, the ostentatiousness of the metal ware vessel, with the finely engraved goblet and the glorious silver-gilt cup towering over the composition, links the picture to another still life genre, the pronk or sumptuous still life. This lavishness is typical of Heda's later work of the 1640s and 1650s, an evolution possibly influenced by the rich banketjes of Jan Davidsz. de Heem and Willem Kalf. An artist known for his fine handling and consummate ability to depict various textures, from the lemon rind to the crust of the bread, Heda exploits the reflective qualities of the glass and metal to extreme pictorial effect, for instance in the reflection of the napkin on the toppled pewter pitcher, or the cross-bar of an unseen window shown on the translucent berkemeier. Despite the seemingly casual arrangement, the placement of each object is carefully planned, creating a pyramidal composition, while the strong diagonals of both the jug and the ham emphasise the sense of depth. The overall simplicity of Heda's art is deceptive and his style has been rightly described by Sam Segal as 'sumptuousness in sober tones'.

At one point, the painting's sober grey background was overpainted with a loosely brushed landscape by a later hand. Another instance of this can be found in Heda's 1634 Still life with Olives (Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten). An early copy of the present painting featuring the same landscape background (Warsaw, National Museum) suggests this modification was made comparatively early in the picture's history. The composition was returned to its original state after it last appeared at auction in Amsterdam in 1985.

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