Few painters have so successfully applied themselves to such a wide range of subject matter as Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller. Although his naturalist and Biedermeier outlook led him to eschew the grand narratives of history and religious subjects, his oeuvre includes landscape, portraiture, still-life, genre painting, and classical mythology. All his works are notable for their extraordinarily accomplished technique, which Waldmüller successfully modulated to the different genres he tackled.
Just as Waldmüller's landscapes are defined by their subtle tones and luminous atmosphere, in particular the way they render the softness of light, so his still-lives -- of which the present lot is a masterly example -- are notable for their crispness, and a level of execution and technical brilliance in the rendition of detail and texture which stands comparison with the greatest Dutch masters of the genre, such as Jan van Huysum and Rachel Ruysch.
Like his portraits, Waldmüller's still-lives strongly reflect a Biedermeier aesthetic, celebrating the refinement and material luxury so valued by the artist's middle class and aristocratic patrons. Waldmüller approached this genre of painting with the same naturalistic eye, and keen appreciation of lighting, as he did his landscapes. In particular, the reflections on the silverware in the present lot are incredibly complex, brilliantly rendering the three-dimensionality of the repoussoir work.
Waldmüller's still-lives always avoid the uniform frontal lighting normally characterstic of the genre, in which the composition simply fades to darkness in the background. Here the scene is illuminated from the upper left, and some of the background foliage is more brightly lit than elements of the middle ground, creating a dappled effect and forcing the viewer to focus on subtleties of shade and reflection, and their role in defining outline and texture. The composition is also atypical: less centred, more naturalistic yet complex in the interplay of different objects and surfaces. Unlike other still life artists who focus on individual details to create contrasts and highlight their technical ability (an insect, lizard or small object), Waldmüller works in a more confident range of larger compositional objects, which are sumptuous, complex, yet appear simultaneously uncontrived.