This rare and idiosyncratic painting is one of Hiepes' most complex and inventive compositions. It was first recorded in Julio Cavestany's pioneering exhibition on Spanish still life, Floreros y bodegones en la pintura española, held in Madrid in 1935. The exhibition, which included seven paintings by Hiepes, comprised 179 still lifes from the 17th to 19th centuries, and was later commemorated in a groundbreaking catalogue of the exhibition, published in 1940 (op. cit.). At that time, very little was known about this Valencian artist, despite being the dominant figure in the development of still-life painting in Valencia in the 1640s. Recently there has been a growing interest in Hiepes' life and work, as evinced by Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez's 1983 Madrid exhibition, Pintura española de bodegones y floreros and his 1995 exhibition on the artist (op. cit.), as well as the 1995 exhibition at the National Gallery, London, which devoted a section to 'Hiepes and Still-Life painting in Eastern Spain' (see W.B. Jordan and P.Cherry, Spanish Still life from Velazquez to Goya, London 1995, pp.118-28).
Hiepes registered in the School of Painters in Valencia as 'Tomás Yepes, painter' on 16 October 1616. The few recently discovered archival references to Hiepes mainly derive from litigation records, which are often witnessed by a close circle of fellow artists, and frequently concern his wife's inheritance, the daughter of a wealthy carpenter (see Pérez Sánchez, op. cit., pp. 142-7). These documents also show that Hiepes' sister ran a sucreria, or confectioner's shop, filled with honey, sugar loaves, and almonds - the very subjects of so many of Hiepes still lifes, and that he had links with the fairs at Medina del Campo where he may have sold his paintings, and where he would have become familiar with the artists working in Castile, such as Juan van der Hamen and Alejandro de Loarte. He seems to have worked independently rather than on commission, and his clients apparently consisted of artisans and wealthy farmers, rather than more courtly circles. His local reputation as a celebrated painter of fruteros was recorded in 1656, during his lifetime, by the chronicler Marco Antonio Ortí. The best-known source on Hiepes, however, is the descriptive account written in the 18th century by the local art historian Marcos Antonio Orellana, who noted:
'His flowers are subtle, translucent and light, his fruits very natural and everything done with admirable perfection. His paintings...are esteemed and celebrated, and one does not see baskets with fruit, flowers, etc., biscuits, pies, cheeses, or pastries...which are well executed in conformity with the real things, without thinking and esteeming them to be works by Yepes. The houses of this city and Kingdom [Valencia] are filled with these kind of paintings by his hand... and I myself have by his hand a basketful of grapes, which I esteem. The limpid and translucent grapes with the vine leaves, could deceive the birds, like those other celebrated grapes by Zeuxis' (Biografía pictórica valenciana o Vida de los pintores, arquitectos, escultores y grabadores valencianos, ed. X. de Salas, 2nd ed., Valencia 1967, pp. 221-2).
The present canvas depicts mounds of freshly collected pomegranates and citrons, and a wicker basket overflowing with translucent white and black grapes on the vine, placed on red-tiled geometric terrace with a formal hedged garden with fruit trees on one side, and an ornate fountain of Apollo with a trellis on the other side, leading the eye towards a distant vista of a lagoon with rolling hills beyond. It is an idyllic and charming scene of abundance, redolent of the gardens and fruit for which Valencia is famous. The acute realism of the still life in the foreground is characteristic of the artist, as are the minutely-observed flowers, including the star-like white myrtle flowers on the left, and the climbing morning glory, pink mirabilis jalapa and the heavy-headed orange marigolds on the right. The ambition and scale of the composition, as well as the asymmetry, would suggest that the painting is a mature work; it certainly dates from after 1649 when the form of his signature changed from 'Yepes' to 'Hiepes'. The use of red ground is fully Valencian and typical of the artist, giving the picture a warm dark tone against which delicately hued fruit and flowers stand out, corporeal and tactile. These large-scale still life compositions in landscape settings by Hiepes are rare, numbering about seven known works, of which the present canvas and A girl in a garden making nosegays (sold Sotheby's, New York, 2 June 1989, lot 76, for $1,017,500) are the most impressive.