Saturday, 31 May 2008

De Heem, oysters with grapes

This panel of about 1640 and light, signed top right. The grapes are almost sweating and the encrusted lemon peel like jewellery...double click on it and you can see the awesome level of detail.

Jan Davidsz. de Heem (or: Johannes de Heem) was born in Utrecht, where his father, a musician, had moved from Antwerp. In 1625 he moved to Leiden, where he married Aletta van der Weede from Utrecht in that same year, and where he is recorded until 1631. His teacher is unknown, but much of his earliest work (painted 1625-28) shows a strong influence of the Utrecht still-life painter Balthasar van der Ast (1593/4-1657). By 1635 de Heem had settled in Antwerp, becoming a member of the guild in early 1636. After the death of his first wife he married Anna Ruckers, a daughter of the well-known Antwerp harpsichord maker, in 1646. In 1665 he was living in Utrecht again, but it is very likely that he had already spent longer sojourns there during the previous years. He was not, however, recorded as a member of the Utrecht guild until 1669. Following the French invasion in 1672, he returned to Antwerp, where he died during the winter of 1683/84.

Jan Davidsz. de Heem was one of the most distinguished and influential still-life and flower painters of the seventeenth century. In the course of his career, more than any other still-life painter, he explored new areas and tried new styles and techniques, both emulating the work of others and developing new approaches, always in a highly individual manner. His success was enormous and attracted a large following, both in the northern and southern Netherlands, as well as abroad. Many works by pupils and followers were later supplied with a de Heem signature or incorrectly attributed to the master, which has created much confusion about the scope of his oeuvre.[i]

The present still life is a characteristic work of the artist of the late 1660s or early 1670s. Firm dating must remain somewhat speculative, since after 1655 de Heem himself inscribed very few paintings with a date, the only known exception being a work of 1675. As a result, it is much more difficult to establish a firm chronology for works from this period than for the first three decades of de Heem’s activity. Subsequent stylistic groups can be clearly distinguished for these last two decades, however – de Heem probably painted very little after the late 1670s