This opulent still life, signed by Desportes and dated ‘1730’, seems not to have been previously published. It is very closely related to a later still life in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, that has been dated to around 1736 by Pierre Jacky in his catalogue raisonné of Desportes’ paintings. The two compositions are almost identical in all their elements, apart from the placement of the hanging partridge, which appears to the right of the stone niche in the Paris painting. Although exact prototypes have yet to be identified for the vermeil ewer and the silver tureen filled with apricots, they closely relate to designs by, respectively, Nicolas Delaunay (d. 1727), the director of the Monnaie des Médailles, and Thomas Germain (1674-1748), the foremost French silversmith of the first-half of the 18th century, who lived close to Desportes in the lodgings in the Louvre granted him by the royal fine arts administration.
By the time that Desportes made the present painting, he had been the leading court painter in France of animals, hunts and luxurious tabletop still lifes for more than thirty years. Received into the Académie Royale in 1699 as an animalier, he quickly became a favorite painter to Louis XIV and Louis XV, admired and depended upon for his diverse abilities and technical proficiency. Within a few years, his many hunt scenes, trompe-l’oeil trophies, portraits of the king’s hounds and studies of the exotic animals in the royal Ménagerie, were decorating the walls of the royal châteaux of Versailles, Marly, Meudon and Fontainebleau, as well as the hôtels particulier of the Parisian beau monde. Trained in the Flemish and Dutch tradition of still life, he inspired a renaissance of still-life painting that would continue in France to the end of the 18th century.
The critic P-J Mariette wrote of Desportes that 'the secret of his success was that he made it an inviolable rule to work only from nature.' In the present still life, Desportes’ gift for close observation enabled him to recreate the surfaces and textures of a rich array of materials. He lovingly depicts the shimmering, intricately cut vermeiled bronze of the ewer and sparkling silver of the tureen, the soft, downy plumage of grey partridges, the fuzzy skins of apricots, moist blue-black flesh of the plums, and the polished surface of a marble sideboard, creating an image of dazzling sumptuousness and sensuosity.