This canvas is a superb example of the meticulous detail, precise observation and jewel-like refinement that characterize Jacob van Walscapelle’s style at the height of his powers. The carefully arranged grouping of fruit and nuts reveal the artist’s supreme skill in depicting differences in texture, from the spiny cupule of the chestnuts and clouded sheen of the grapes to the juicy flesh of the open melon. Walscapelle’s composition is positioned to show the corner of the stone ledge projecting directly out towards the viewer, an innovative approach that lends dynamism and movement to the image. The ledge and its bounty are illuminated by a beam of light that must surely be understood to come from a window at left, whose panes are painstakingly reflected in the wine-filled roemer.
Born in Dordrecht as Jacobus Cruydenier, Jacobus van Walscapelle later adopted the surname of his great grandfather. By the mid-1660s, he had moved to Amsterdam, where he entered the workshop of the still-life painter Cornelis Kick (1631/34-1681). His biographer Arnold Houbraken reports that Walscapelle was working alongside his master painting flowers from the garden of Kick’s father-in-law outside the city’s Sint Antoniespoort (De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders, Amsterdam 1719, II, p. 334). Walscapelle left Kick’s workshop after the latter’s decision to move to Loenen in 1667 and became increasingly involved with the city’s public affairs, having entered the service of the Drapers’ Hall in 1673. Only one work by the artist is dated to after 1685, and it seems that after this date he generally eschewed painting to concentrate on his civic duties.
Walscapelle’s early works show a strong affinity with those of his master, but from the early 1670s he began to take greater inspiration from the Utrecht school of still-life painters, most notably Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606-1684) and Abraham Mignon (1640-1679). Indeed, the dramatic lighting and sharply defined fruit here recall the works of both of these masters, and the elegantly curving stalk of wheat is a motif borrowed directly from De Heem. As Fred Meijer, who has endorsed the attribution, has noted (written expertise), the present work relates stylistically to other works Walscapelle painted in the mid-1670s, and can be dated to c. 1675.
Like many of the lush still-life paintings from this period, the feast shown here alludes to the fragility of life and of any earthly bounty: the grapes and chestnuts hang somewhat precariously over the ledge, reminding the viewer of the transience of mortal things, and the broken skin of the grape in the center of the bunch, along with the small spot of mold blooming on the skin of the peach, reinforce such a reading.