A Toebackje: a Still-life with a Berkemeier, Matches, clay Pipes, a Tobacco Box, and a Brazier
signed in monogram and dated lower left: PC 1638
oil on panel, 28,2 x 45,6 cm
Pieter Claesz spent his entire career in Haarlem, where he specialized in still-life paintings. Well over 100 works survive, dating from 1621 to 1660. Most of his pictures are dated and monogrammed PC. Since those initials were shared by the Antwerp still-life painter Clara Peeters, some attributions are disputed.
Claesz’s depictions of modest objects arranged on a table-top exemplify the development of Dutch still-life painting in the 17th century. Early in his career he was an outstanding exponent of the monochromatic still-life, which echoed the tonal landscapes produced by contemporary Haarlem landscape painters. Claesz employed colour schemes unified by a predominating neutral tone, typically favouring warm browns, golds and olive greens, which he sparked with the yellows and reds of fruits or contrasted with the cool greys of silver and pewter. He experimented with both daylight and candlelight, often causing a shadow to fall diagonally on the background wall. Claesz’s earliest known work, Still-Life with a Stoneware Jug (1621, England, private collection), is a ‘breakfast piece’ (ontbijtje) in the manner of the slightly earlier Haarlem still-life painters Nicolaes Gillis, Floris van Dyck and Floris van Schooten. Bowls of fruits and berries, wine and olives are arranged at regular intervals beside a jug on a white damask tablecloth, in a compositional type that is usually termed ‘additive’. Local colour is strong and the viewpoint high, so as to invite inspection of the deliberately placed objects, hardly any of which overlap. Already, however, Claesz’s distinctive character is revealed in the unifying atmosphere, the convincing illusionism, and the sense of space created by the diagonal arrangement.
The intimate grouping of fewer objects in a simple monumental design typifies Claesz’s mature or middle period. His remarkably simple compositions of the 1630s and 1640s are tightly knit and ingeniously yet naturally constructed, often around a dominating formal motif, such as the fanning diagonals in the present painting. His works of this period often resemble those of his Haarlem colleague Willem Claesz. Heda in subject-matter, composition and monochromatic harmony, but Heda characteristically preferred cooler, more luminous effects captured with exceptional refinement. Claesz’s technique is sometimes meticulous, as in the Still-Life with a Turkey Pie (1627, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), and sometimes vigourously free, as in the Breakfast Piece with a Ham (1643, Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts). He often painted vanitas still-lifes, with skulls, hourglasses and guttering flames that invite meditation on transience and death (for example The Hague, Mauritshuis). His breakfast pieces probably also have loosely constructed symbolic programmes, with complex meanings centred on the temptations of earthly goods. For example, wine might suggest the Eucharist, but it also connoted pleasurable indulgence and even drunken
private collection, England
Amsterdam, D. Komter gallery, 1921
Amsterdam, Bernard Houthakker gallery
Dieren, D. Katz gallery, by 1931
New York, art market
Wassenaar, collection Sidney J. van den Bergh, until 1975
With G. Cramer, The Hague
private collection, New York
Bob P. Haboldt & Co., New York
private collection, Belgium, until 2013
H.P. Bremmer, in: Beeldende Kunst, vol. IX.3, 1922, no. 19, ill.
A.P.A. Vorenkamp, Bijdrage tot de geschiedenis van het Hollandsch stilleven in de zeventiende eeuw (diss. Leiden), 1933, p. 32, note 1
N.R.A. Vroom, De Schilders van het Monochrome Banketje, Amsterdam, 1945, pp. 23, 42, 43 (fig. 30), 104 (fig. 87), 199, no. 34
A.B. de Vries, Verzameling Sidney J. van den Bergh, Wassenaar 1968, pp. 40-41, ill.
A.W. Lowenthal, ‘Pieter Claesz,’ in: J. Turner (ed.), The Dictionary of Art, London/NewYork, 1996, p. 369
M. Brunner-Bulst, ‘Pieter Claesz. The Rediscovery of the Painter and His Origins,’
in: Pieter Claesz. Master of Haarlem Still Life, Zwolle 2004, p. 52.
M. Brunner-Bulst, Pieter Claesz., der Hauptmeister des Haarlemer Stillebens im 17. Jahrhundert, 2004, pp. 252-53, cat. no. 86, ill.
Dieren, Kunsthandel D. Katz, 1937, 16e en 17e eeuwsche Hollandsche schilderijen, cat. no. 14 (as dated 1635)
Delft, Museum Het Prinsenhof, 1952/53, Nederlandse meesters uit particulier bezit, cat. no. 12 (as dated 1633)
Laren, Singer Museum, 1959, Kunstschatten. Twee Nederlandse collecties schilderijen …, cat. no. 37 (as dated 1633)
Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, 1962, Nederlandse stillevens uit de zeventiende eeuw, cat. no. 34 (as dated 1633)
Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, 1965, 17e eeuwsche meesters uit Nederlands particulier bezit, cat. no. 11 (as dated 1633)
Bucharest, Muzeul de Artă al Republicii Socialiste România, 1972, Olandezul la el acasá şi în lume, p. 89
New York, National Academy of Design, 1988, Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections, cat. no. 12, p. 44, ill.
Haarlem, Frans Halsmuseum, Zürich, Kunsthaus, Washington, National Gallery of Art, 2004-2005, Pieter Claesz. Master of Haarlem Still Life, cat. no. 30, p. 74, ill., pp. 52, 123