This previously unrecorded work is a significant addition to the oeuvre of Pieter Claesz., one of the outstanding proponents of the monochromatic still life. That genre, which echoed the tonal painting of contemporary landscaspists in Haarlem, and of which the other leading artist was Willem Claesz. Heda, was perhaps one of the most quintessentially Dutch of that nation's artistic Golden Age. This is an impressive example of that style, depicting with an artful simplicity an array of objects that recur in many other work's of Claesz.'s maturity. Although his subject matter remained fairly constant throughout his career, however, Claesz.'s handling of them changed; those pictures that are seen as best epitomising his work date, like the present painting, from the 1630s and early 1640s.
At that period, as here, his palette is restricted to a simple range of neutral tones, typically favouring warm browns, golds and olive greens, which he sparked with the yellows of fruits and contrasted with the cool greys of silver and pewter. At the same time, these were presented through a range of objects designed to illustrate the artist's mastery of texture: the cool metals and glass, the hard carapace of the crab, the gleaming olives, the crusty bread and pitted nuts, the glistening interior of the lemon contrasted against its waxy peel. In addition, many of the objects subtly complement each other: the bumps of the roemer's base with the grapes and olives, the dimpled forms of the lemon and the bread roll, the elipses of the porcelain and pewter dishes.
These carefully selected items are arranged in a manner that is designed to give the apearance of natural simplicity, but that in reality is subtly worked out to give the greatest illusion of depth and form: so, for example, the arrangment of the ellipses in the plates and the salt, receding from one another whilst rising to form the wedge shape around which the composition - as with many other's of Claesz.'s works from the period - is based. The uniformity of that arrangement is offset by the carefully placed porcelain dish, resting at an angle on the plate, and the gentle tilt of the lemon slices and segment; the strong horizontals are also contrasted with the verticals of the roemer, the salt and the folds of the tablecloth.
Later in Claesz.'s career, the apparent effortlessness of design inherent in his work became slightly lost amongst more grandiose and luxurious pictures such as his Still life of 1651 in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg, or that of 1654 formerly with Douwes, Amsterdam (see N.R.A. Vroom, A Modest Message, Schiedam, 1980, II, p. 38, no. 162, illustrated). Although those later works remain spectacular examples of artistic ability, they lack that apparent simplicity of form and subject, that reflection of quiet virtue, that is so admired in examples such as the present work, depictng as it does, 'the magic of everyday things' (catalogue of the exhibition, Still-Life Painting in the Netherlands, A. Chong and W. Kloek, eds., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and Cleveland, Museum of Art, 1999, p. 144, under no. 17).