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Luis Meléndez (Naples 1716-1780 Madrid)
Masterworks from the Estate of Lila and Herman Shickman
Luis Meléndez (Naples 1716-1780 Madrid)

Artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape

Details
Luis Meléndez (Naples 1716-1780 Madrid)
Artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape
signed 'L.M F' (center right, on a stone)
oil on canvas
24 ½ x 32 ½ in. (62.3 x 82.6 cm.)
Provenance
Edward Sackville-West (1901-1965), 5th Baron Sackville, Knole, Kent; Sotheby's, London, 16 March 1966, lot 71, where acquired by the following
with Hallsborough Gallery, London.
Acquired by Herman Shickman, by 1970.
Literature
'Bibliografia. Mercado de Arte', Archivo Español de Arte, XXXIX, 1966, no. 210, pl. 3, no. 8.
E. Tufts, A Stylistic Study of the Paintings of Luis Melendez, Ph.D. dissertation, New York, 1971, p. 183, no. 58, fig. 53.
E. Tufts, 'Luis Meléndez, Still-Life Painter "Sans Pareil"', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, CXXIV, November 1982, p. 163, no. 82.
J.J. Luna, Luis Meléndez, bodegonista español del siglo XVIII, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 1982, p. 31, illustrated.
E. Tufts, Luis Meléndez: Eighteenth-Century Master of the Spanish Still Life with a Catalogue Raisonné, Columbia, MO, 1985, pp. 103, 185, no. 81, pl. 81.
N.A. Mallory, 'Dallas. Luis Meléndez', The Burlington Magazine, CXXVII, 1985, p. 260.
J. Brown, 'Review of Luis Meléndez: Eighteenth-Century Master of the Spanish Still Life with a Catalogue Raisonné', Art in America, LXXIII, October 1985, p. 17.
J.J. Luna, 'America en los bodegones de Luis Meléndez', Madrid en el contexto de lo hispánico deside la época de los descubrimientos, Madrid, 1994, I, p. 537.
J.J. Luna, Los Alimentos de España en la Pintura Bodegas de Luis Meléndez, Madrid, 1995, p. 46, illustrated.
P. Cherry and J.J. Luna, Luis Meléndez: Still Lifes, exhibition catalogue, Dublin, 2004, p. 108.
P. Cherry and J.J. Luna, Luis Meléndez: Bodegones, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 2004, p. 180.
P. Cherry, Luis Meléndez: Still-Life Painter, Madrid, 2006, pp. 150, 154, 460-461, 540, no. 81, illustrated.
Exhibited
Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Kunsthandelaar en verzamelaar (Art dealer and collector), 27 March-31 May 1970, no. 38.
Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Dallas, Meadows Museum; New York, National Academy of Design, Luis Meléndez: Spanish Still-Life Painter of the Eighteenth Century, 12 January-1 September 1985, no. 24.
London, National Gallery, Spanish Still-Life from Velázquez to Goya, 22 February-21 May 1995, no. 59.
Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art; New York, The Spanish Institute, Painting in Spain in the Age of Enlightenment: Goya and his Contemporaries, 23 November 1996-Spring 1997, no. 58.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999-2018, on loan.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life, 17 May 2009-9 May 2010, no. 28.
Sale Room Notice
This Lot is Withdrawn.

Lot Essay

One of only a dozen large-scale still lifes by Meléndez that are situated in landscape settings, the dramatic lighting and atmospheric setting of the Shickman painting imbues it with a memorably brooding, romantic quality. The landscape is less topological than broadly suggestive of the Spanish countryside, whose bounty includes tomatoes, artichokes, pears and peas, and the still life is presented with a monumentality suggestive of nature’s abundance.
Luis Meléndez , often referred to as the Spanish Chardin, was one of the greatest and most original still life painters of 18th-century Europe. Born in Naples into a family of painters, he moved the following year to Madrid where his father, Francisco, pursued a successful career as a portrait miniaturist. Luis received his earliest training from his father, producing miniature royal portraits in jewels and bracelets that were sent as gifts to envoys and ambassadors. He then entered the studio of Louis Michel Vanloo, the French artist who was court portraitist to Philip V, the first Bourbon king of Spain. He entered the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid in 1745, the year after it was founded, and was quickly judged first among its students. He excelled at the rigorous academic requirements, especially life drawing, as is attested to in his remarkably assured Self Portrait of 1746 (Musée du Louvre, Paris), in which he depicts himself proudly displaying a highly finished drawing of a male nude in a typical academic pose.
Meléndez's promising future was derailed by the rash actions of his father, however, who lost the support of his colleagues at the Academy in a needless dispute in 1748, resulting in the expulsion of both father and son. Afterward, Luis travelled to both Rome and his birthplace, Naples, at his own expense, remaining in Italy for four years and surviving on a few commissions for Charles VI of Naples, future Charles III of Spain. He found it difficult finding work on his return to Spain in 1752, and he made a living assisting his father in painting miniatures in choir books for the royal chapel.
It was as a miniaturist that Meléndez came to the attention of Joseph Baretti, a British traveler, who admired these decorated choir books: 'Those painted by Don Luis Meléndez especially are superior to anything of that kind. I gazed over several of them with admiration. The man is still alive: but King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who kept him long employed in that work, forgot to make any provision for him, and I am told he now lives in poverty and obscurity. Indeed it is a great pity if this is true!'
In 1760, at the time Baretti wrote of him so enthusiastically, Meléndez petitioned the new king to appoint him court painter. Although Charles III was sympathetic, it was only through the Royal Academy that he funneled patronage and Meléndez had burned that bridge; he petitioned the king again in 1772, once more without success. It was in the final twenty years of his life that he undertook the series of 100 or so still lifes on which his reputation rests, one of the few fields in which an artist could make a living without royal patronage or the support of the Academy. From 1759 to 1772, Meléndez produced a dazzling series of 44 still lifes for the private museum of the Prince of Asturias, 39 of which are today in the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, as well as all of his other known still life paintings. Although there is no record of a royal commission, nearly half of his known works were first documented decorating the walls in the royal summer residence at Aranjuez in 1818, thirty-eight years after the artist’s death.
While most of his known still lifes are small-scale kitchen interiors with fruits, vegetables, dishes and the like arranged on bare wooden tables against dark or neutral backgrounds, recalling in their simplicity, solidity and sharp, clear lighting the sober still lifes of 17th-century Spanish still life painters such as Zurbaran and Sánchez Cotán, he turned occasionally to airy, outdoor compositions, such as the Shickman painting, in the 1770s. Four still lifes with landscape settings, all of approximately the same size as this large canvas (32 inches wide), were among the paintings delivered to the Prince of Asturias in 1771 and 1772; all four of the Asturias canvases are today in the Prado. The Shickman picture has not, generally, been considered to have been part of this commission and is signed but not dated; however, like the other pictures grouped around this series, it is generally dated to the early 1770s, as its size, format, landscape setting and stylistic handling are consistent with the Prado set. In fact, one recent author has suggested that the painting may have been intended for Asturias. Ronda Kasl (op. cit.) believes 'that the Shickman Still Life with Artichokes and Tomatoes in a Landscape was also painted for the prince of Asturias commission, but it never made its way from Meléndez's studio to the royal collection due to the dispute which interrupted the flow of pictures. When Still Life with Artichokes and Tomatoes in a Landscape is compared with the four still lifes-cum-landscapes that we know were delivered, it seems clear that the Shickman picture belongs with this group. First, its dimensions are approximately the same as the four pictures that entered the prince’s collection. Perhaps more importantly, its summary landscape setting is strikingly similar to theirs, and it features a single product, the artichoke – grown in the Spanish-ruled regions of southern Italy as well on the Iberian peninsula – surrounded by examples of other native Spanish produce (the pears and peas) as well as tomatoes…. Moreover, the painting fits Meléndez's own description of what he was working on for the prince during the years 1771 and 1772' (loc. cit.).
On the ground of a rocky, wooded landscape, Melendez has arranged, seemingly casually, nine artichokes with spiky leaves, six yellow pears, peapods and six large and brilliantly hued, red tomatoes. Meléndez is one of the first Spanish painters to include tomatoes in his paintings, the red fruit having been only recently introduced to Europe from the New World, where they had long been a staple of Mexican and Peruvian cuisine. The fruits and vegetables take on a monumental quality in the expansive landscape setting, dwarfing the towering mountain in the distant background and sheltered by the dramatic, purple-clouded sky. Meléndez's systematic presentation of the produce of Spain reflected current Enlightenment scientific interest initiated by Linnaeus’s plant studies (which had recently been translated into Spanish), but also nationalistic pride in depicting the bounty of the Spanish realm. In a letter of 1772 to Charles III, Meléndez described a goal of his still lifes to depict '…all the species of comestibles that the Spanish climate produces.' The central motif of the artichokes, with the exception of the one at far left, derives from another still life by the artist, recently rediscovered, in which the group is rendered in identical fashion. Infrared reflectography of the present painting shows that the artist added this final artichoke after he had already blocked in the landscape in brown paint, suggesting that the Shickman painting, with its ninth artichoke, followed on the painting with eight. This final artichoke was painted around an existing leaf and over the landscape background. It is possible that a lost life study of the artichokes once existed and provided Melendez with the prototype for both of the Shickman painting and its predecessor.
The bright red tomatoes and yellow pears provide a rich chromatic variety to a palette dominated by the wide-ranging and various greens found in the trees, artichokes and peapods. Numerous pentimenti indicate that Meléndez was adjusting his composition directly on the canvas as he painted, adding and removing elements and subtly shifting their positions until he achieved the perfect balance he sought. The combination of rapid, fleet brushwork, precision of detail, expansiveness of design and rich range of coloring help make the Shickman canvas one of the artist’s most beautiful and successfully realized.

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