Jan Davidsz. de Heem is recognized as the greatest and most versatile still life painter of the 17th Century in The Netherlands, if not in Europe. He was trained in his native Utrecht before moving to Leiden in 1626, where he initially worked in the style of Balthasar van der Ast, who was probably his teacher in Utrecht. In the mid 1630s he settled in the Habsburg controlled Southern Netherlands, being enrolled in the Antwerp guild of Saint Luke between September 1635 and September 1636. By then he was already an accomplished still life painter of some thirty years of age.
The Antwerp tradition of still life painting, sustained by the followers of Jan Brueghel I and enriched by Frans Snyders, must have been congenial to De Heem. Here he fully expressed his love of rich colour effects, precious objects delicately portrayed and fruits of the earth in abundance. In the early 1660s, he moved back to Utrecht where he stayed until the Rampjaar of 1672, which made him return to Antwerp.
The profound impact of De Heem's art was inevitably the most substantial in Antwerp, where he lived and worked for the greater part of his career. Only a small number of pupils are documented, among them Alexander Coosemans in Antwerp and Abraham Mignon in Utrecht. The latter, who was at his best a rival for his master, occasionally collaborated on De Heem's paintings. That the artist was able to attract pupils of such calibre reflected the fact that he was extremely successful and correspondingly well paid for his work.
Mr. Fred Meijer points out that this rediscovered still life is a typical picture from De Heem's Antwerp period. On the basis of its handling and blond palette he dates the picture to circa 1653-4. The artist's expert handling of the brush is obvious in the natural modelling and the soft rendering of the various exotic fruits and the distinguishable refractions of light upon the different glasses and the bowl. The subtle yellow and reddish tones and the various green and brown shades are beautifully contrasted by the cold tones of the blue Wanli bowl. Its modesty in components and tonality, the lack of any exuberance and the absence of De Heem's strong red colours, make the present picture a rather unique work for De Heem's oeuvre of this period.
The original format has been enlarged in the past, most likely in the late 18th Century, with small strips of canvas on all sides; approx. 1 cm. along the lower edge, approx. 1.5 cm. along the left and right edge and approx. 4.6 cm. along the upper edge. When reduced to its initial size, the harmonious arrangement of the different colours and shapes show De Heem's gifted compositional sensitivity.
We are grateful to Mr. Fred Meijer of the RKD, The Hague for examining the picture in person and his assistance in cataloguing this lot. He will include the picture in his forthcoming catalogue raisonnée on Jan Davidsz. de Heem.