This exquisitely preserved still life by Frans Snyders is likely identifiable with the picture described in Gustav Waagen's survey of British collections: "Two blue earthen vessels, one of them containing crabs: a jug, dead birds, and light colored grapes. Admirably carried out in a clear silvery tone" (loc. cit.). Datable to c. 1612-1613, this richly described array of fruits, animals, and precious objects is a magnificent example of Synders' ability to capture the minute details of the observable world in a dramatic, dynamically balanced composition. A wicker basket overflowing with translucent, swollen grapes dominates the right side of the picture, its wispy, curling vines reaching out across the composition as if in motion. At center, an array of game-birds - whose carefully-described plumage and beaks permit identification of the various species - is a tour-de-force of textural representation, the feathers alternately bristling from the lifeless bodies and settling in downy tufts. The two elegant Wan-li kraak porcelain bowls at left, stacked so that they mirror the shape of the basket of grapes, are depicted with careful attention to the subtle light source which also illuminates the gilt saltcellar, stoneware jug, and impossibly delicate wineglasses behind. The langoustines in the porcelain bowls provide a brilliant pop of color, epitomizing what Peter Sutton calls the "vitality and exuberance" that characterize Synders' work (Greenwich, loc. cit.).
A close friend and collaborator of the great Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Frans Snyders studied with Pieter Brueghel II and traveled to Italy before settling permanently in his native Antwerp, where in 1619 he joined the painters' guild, eventually serving as its Dean. Unlike the great exponents of Flemish still life before him, however - including Osias Beert, Clara Peeters, and Pieter Binoit - Snyders experimented with texture in a more painterly fashion, forsaking their smooth, miniaturist technique and more static designs for bolder brushwork, vivid color, and compositional rhythm. His highly sought-after, innovative works earned him prominence and success, and by the second decade of the 17th century Snyders had collaborated not only with Rubens but with Anthony van Dyck, Cornelis de Vos and Jacob Jordaens, to name a few. He also amassed a serious collection of paintings, bought from his estate in 1657 by the Antwerp dealer Matthijs Musson, which included great works by Rubens and Van Dyck as well as examples by Pieter Bruegel I, Joachim Patinir, Jan Breughel I, Joos van Cleve, and Frans Ykens.