Willem Kalf (Rotterdam 1619-1693 Amsterdam)
Masterworks from the Estate of Lila and Herman Shickman
Willem Kalf (Rotterdam 1619-1693 Amsterdam)

A chafing dish, two pilgrims' canteens, a silver-gilt ewer, a plate and other tableware on a partially draped table

Willem Kalf (Rotterdam 1619-1693 Amsterdam)
A chafing dish, two pilgrims' canteens, a silver-gilt ewer, a plate and other tableware on a partially draped table
signed 'w. KALF.' (lower right, on the front edge of the table)
oil on canvas
39 ¾ x 31 ¾ in. (101 x 80.5 cm.)
with Matthiesen Gallery, London, by 1938 (probably owned in partnership with Christian Faerber).
with Paul Drey Gallery, New York, by 1945.
Christian Faerber, Gothenburg and New York, by 1947.
[The Property of a Gentleman]; Sotheby's, London, 6 July 1966, lot 121.
Acquired by Herman Shickman, by 1967.
The Burlington Magazine, LXXIII, 1938, December Supplement, no. V, illustrated.
H.E. van Gelder, W.C. Heda, A. van Beyeren, W. Kalf, Amsterdam, 1941, pp. 42, 47, illustrated.
W. Stechow, 'Notes on an Exhibition of Still Life Paintings from the 17th to the 19th Century', Bulletin of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, II, 1945, pp. 9-10, illustrated.
I. Bergström, Holländskt Stillebenmåleri: Under 1600-Talet, Gothenburg, 1947, pp. 272-273, fig. 223.
I. Bergström, Dutch Still-Life Painting in the Seventeenth Century, London, 1956, pp. 269-270, fig. 233.
L. Grisebach, Willem Kalf, 1619-1693, 1974, pp. 239-240, no. 68, fig. 70.
London, Matthiesen Gallery, Still Life and Flower Paintings of the Old and Modern Masters, 13 June-22 July 1938, no. 32.
Oberlin, OH, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Still Life Paintings 17th to 19th Century, 1945.
Stockholm, National Museum, Konstkatter fraan Hollandsguldaalder, 1959, no. 229.
Oslo, Nasjonalgalleriet, Fra Rembrandt til Vermeer, 9 October-6 December 1959, no. 35.
New York, Shickman Gallery, Exhibition of Dutch Seventeenth Century Paintings, October 1967, no. 2.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Grand Gallery, 19 October 1974-5 January 1975, no. 118.
New York, National Academy of Design, Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections, September 1988, no. 27.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999-2018, on loan.
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; Aachen, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Gemaltes Licht: Die Stilleben von Willem Kalf, 25 November 2006-3 June 2007, no. 21.
Sale room notice
In addition to those lots marked in the catalogue with the relevant symbols, Lot 107 has a guarantee fully or partially financed by a third-party who may be bidding on the lot and may receive a financing fee from Christie’s. 

Lot Essay

‘The mastery of this man in this area of art shows itself here in its highest light. One must see this picture in order to understand in what sense art is superior to nature and what the spirit of mankind imparts to objects, which it views with creative eyes. For me, at least, there is no question but that should I have the choice of the golden vessels or the picture, I would choose the picture.’
(Johann Wolfgang Goethe, ‘Zur Erinnerung des Städelschen Kabinetts’, 19 August 1797)
Goethe’s admiring diary entry on Willem Kalf and his work references a similar work dated 1643 in the collection of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne (fig. 1), but could equally apply to the present painting, which was praised by one commentator in the Burlington Magazine in 1938 as nothing short of a ‘symphony in pewter’ (loc. cit.). Having been in the Shickman collection for more than half a century, this still life testifies to Kalf’s consummate abilities and exquisite painterly technique. Through his distillation of objects and the intensity of focus he brings to his crystalline renderings, especially evident in the pastose dots of paint that masterfully indicate the reflection of light across the engraved and chiseled silver-gilt ewer, Kalf lays claim to the notion that, in the words of one scholar, ‘quality can register affluence as effectively as can quantity’ (see J.B. Hochstrasser, Still Life and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age, New Haven and London, p. 269). Indeed, his virtuoso abilities at creating the illusion of reality has led to his work being compared with that of Vermeer and ensured that Kalf’s reputation, unlike that of most Dutch still life painters, never waned from his lifetime to the ‘rediscovery’ of the genre in the middle of the twentieth century.
This painting is one of only thirteen known still lifes executed during Kalf’s formative years in Paris, which, in addition to the painting in Cologne, includes examples today in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (fig. 2) and Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (fig. 3). Born in Rotterdam, Kalf travelled to Paris in the late 1630s and resided there until 1646, when he returned permanently to the Netherlands. Despite his close contacts with contemporary French still life painters – the Getty painting has, for example, been identified as the work described in the estate inventory of Jacques Linard (Paris, Archives Nationales, Minutier central, étude LXXXI, 42, no. 138, 1647) – their production left comparatively little trace on Kalf’s activity in the period. Kalf’s elegantly composed still lifes brimming with costly objects arranged on a partially draped table, however, appear to have had a lasting influence on the subsequent production of French still life painters like Pierre Dupuis (1610-1682) and Meiffren Conte (circa 1630-1705) and were subsequently admired by painters like Antoine Coypel, who offered unreserved praise for the 'object imitated after nature' and noted that Kalf spoke 'the language of painting as well as Giorgione and Titian' (quoted in C.B. Bailey, 'Surveying Genre in Eighteenth-Century French Painting', The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting, exhibition catalogue, Ottawa, Washington and Berlin, 2003, p. 18). Moreover, their relatively restricted palette served as a critical bridge between the tonal still lifes of Dutch artists like Pieter Claesz and Willem Claesz. Heda and the so-called pronkstilleven (sumptuous and ornate still lifes) that would become Kalf’s stock-in-trade in the 1650s and 1660s.
Kalf seems to have acted as an appraiser as well as a dealer in objets d’art and engravings, and it has been suggested that he may have employed some of this stock in his paintings (see A.J. Adams, Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1988, p. 76). Rather than arrange these objects on a table, Kalf probably produced drawings of individual objects which could then be employed as aids in developing his compositions. Strong evidence for this working process emerges in a painting that last surfaced at a Parisian auction in 1960 (fig. 4), a nearly identical composition to the present work, save the rotation of the silver-gilt ewer, as well as a painting dated 1644 and formerly in the collection of the Earls of Warwick, Warwick Castle, which includes an exceedingly similar upright pilgrim’s canteen at center.
The striking compositional similarities of Kalf’s early Parisian still lifes has created a degree of scholarly confusion regarding their provenance. In his seminal catalogue raisonné on the master and his work, Lucius Grisebach catalogued this painting as having passed through sale at Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, 24-27 March 1942, lot 68 (loc. cit.). It is all but certain that the painting sold to ‘Hermsen’ (presumably the dealer Kees Hermsen) in 1942 was instead the painting of nearly identical composition and dimensions formerly on the Parisian art market. For one, the present painting is fully signed ‘w. KALF’ in large block letters, whereas the painting sold in 1942, much like the example formerly on the Parisian art market, was evidently unsigned. Moreover, it is known that the present painting was in the possession of Christian Faerber, an art dealer who worked for many years with the Matthiesen Gallery, by 1947. Though the Matthiesen records for 1938 unfortunately do not survive, one can reasonably conclude that, in light of his relationship with Matthiesen and subsequent ownership of the painting, Faerber lent the work to the gallery’s exhibition of still lifes that year. Indeed, the persistent confusion regarding the provenance of these two works is confirmed by a record in the Getty Photo Archive, which erroneously suggests that our painting was the example put into sale in 1960.

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