Willem Claesz Heda

A still life of a rummer of white wine, a lemon on a pewter plate, a knife and a glass of ale on a table covered with a dark green cloth

Oil on panel: 16.1(h) x 12.2(w) in /

41(h) x 31(w) cm

Signed and dated lower left on the blade of the knife: .HEDA.1634

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BT 236

 

WILLEM CLAESZ. HEDA

1594 – Haarlem – 1680

 

A still life of a rummer of white wine, a lemon on a pewter plate, a knife and a glass of ale on a table covered with a dark green cloth

 

Signed and dated lower left on the blade of the knife: .HEDA.1634

Oil on panel: 16 1/8 x 12 ¼ in / 41 x 31 cm

Frame size: 23 ¼ x 19 ½ in / 59.1 x 49.5 cm

 

Provenance:

Private collection, Europe

 

 

Willem Claesz. Heda was born in Haarlem, the son of the City Architect Claes Pietersz. (1558-1632) and Anna Claesdr. Rooswijk. He was thus raised in a family that was well-off. Heda’s father belonged to the Bega family, the painter adopted his last name, Heda, from his mother’s family. On a recorded portrait of the artist from 1678, probably no longer in existence, his age was given as 84, which confirms his year of birth, 1594. Nothing is known about Heda’s training, but he may initially have been guided by his uncle, the painter Cornelis Claesz. Heda. Already in 1620, in a Haarlem document, he is referred to as a painter, but little is known about his early work. He drew and painted some religious subjects around the mid-1620s, at which time he also started to paint still lifes; a portrait of a family by him is known from 1647. His still lifes were already praised in Samuel Ampzing’s text about the city of Haarlem from 1628.[i] Heda’s earliest known distinctly dated still life, however, is a vanity piece from that same year, 1628, (Museum Bredius, The Hague), but a small banquet piece in private hands was probably painted somewhat earlier.[ii] From 1629 on, Heda produced many ‘monochrome banquet’ still lifes of a very high quality. In 1631, his name is found in the Haarlem guild records for the first time, but most likely he had already become a member many years earlier. Between 1637 and 1652 he served on its committee repeatedly. Heda painted still lifes until some ten years before his death, but from the mid-1650s, his age clearly affected his work, and both the quality of his paintings and the number he produced, declined considerably.

 

The 1630s and the 1640s were Willem Claesz. Heda’s most prolific decades, while in the 1630s he produced the majority of his best and most meticulously painted still lifes. Heda quite often dated his still lifes and from the dates on his pictures it would appear that in the years 1633 to 1635 he painted an average of a least six or seven still lifes each year. For these three years, 16 dated still lifes were listed in 1980.[iii] Since then, two or three could be added for 1633, three or four for 1634, including the present, newly found one, and two major examples for 1635, among them the painting acquired by the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum in 1984.[iv] It would appear that Heda dated the majority of his still lifes in these years, since very few undated works appear to belong to the same period. Generally, it is true that Heda’s manner was more meticulous than that of his fellow-townsman Pieter Claesz., the other major Haarlem painter of ‘monochrome banquet’ still lifes. Claesz., as a result, had a higher output, numerically.[v]

           

Heda’s lighting is rather even, and the background is quite bright, usually with a concentration of light falling in behind the most prominent part of the still life, which makes the objects stand out strong against the background. The artist appears to have enjoyed rendering sparkling highlights on his shiny surfaces of metal and glass. Here, that effect is the most prominent on the rummer, the central motif of this composition. The artist has introduced a variety of light reflections on it: larger ones of the four-part window of his studio, a softer sheen in the cuppa of the glass, and many sparkling highlights on the sharp prunts and ribbed glass ring on the stem. Heda also took pride in rendering an array of differing textures in his still lifes: the hard metal and glass (but differing in texture from each other), the soft, heavy woollen tablecloth, and the coarse skin of the lemon against its  moist, transparent interior.

 

Most of Heda’s compositions are horizontal and include many more objects than this relatively simple, but delicately still arrangement. Only a few times in his career did Heda choose for such a still and restrained upright composition. An early example from 1629 was with Richard Green in 2002 (1).[vi] A poorly preserved variant of that composition from the following year – without grapes, but with a pewter dish of olives – is in the Dutch national collection.[vii] A similarly restrained upright composition, but with a different selection of objects, from 1633, was on the art market in 1996 and later (2).[viii] Possibly also from 1634, or 1635, in view of the similarity with the present work in handling and choice of motifs, is an example that was on the art market in 1970 (3).[ix] Examples of such compositions by Heda after c. 1635 are not known. Only slightly similar and substantially larger is an example from 1649 (4). The date of the present painting, 1636, is also confirmed by strong similarities in the glass, pewter plate, and lemon, with larger and more elaborate examples from the same year, such as a still life in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, and one in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (5, 6).[x]

           

Often, Heda appears to have kept objects as studio props, since they recur in a number of his still lifes. This is in fact true for most of the objects shown here. The rummer with a conical cuppa and thorn-shaped prunts can be found in many of Heda’s still lifes – although he must have owned several different examples. Pewter plates like this one abound in his still lifes and can hardly be discerned from each other, but the knife with an ebony handle decorated with metal (silver?) dots appears in a few other still lifes by Heda, among them a painting from 1635 that was with Richard Green in 1993, as well as in another example from the same year, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.[xi] After that, it only seems to appear in a work from 1636.[xii] The bubbled glass beaker standing next to the rummer, although a common object at the time, does not appear in other Heda still lifes from the 1630s, usually he depicted plain cups.[xiii] Hazelnuts, whole and broken, appear in many of Heda’s still lifes.

 

Often, particularly for his smaller works, Heda ‘zoomed in’ on his still lifes, thus creating a rather intimate atmosphere, which gives the viewer the impression that he has the laid table all to himself. This is certainly the case in this relatively small example. Heda’s works do not abound in symbolism, but he does seem to advocate modesty, with the partly filled glasses, and by the notion that only one of the hazelnuts that has been cracked. Perhaps the lemon, which was used to moderate the taste of the wine, can also be understood in this sense. Whether or not this still life carries a message, Heda did evoke the still atmosphere of a table that has been left – perhaps only briefly – by its consumer(s). Most of all, it is a treat for the eye.

 

                                                                     Fred G Meijer

 

 

 1  2

 

 3  4

 

 5

 

 6

 

 

 

 

[i] Samuel Ampzing, Beschrijvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland, Haarlem, 1628, p. 372.

 

[ii] Sale Christie’s, Paris, 21 June 2011, lo2, colour ill. signed and dated 162. (c. 1627). See also RKDimages on line database, no. 279969.

 

[iii]  N.R.A. Vroom, A modest message as intimated by the painters of the ‘Monochrome Banketje’, 1980, Vol 2., pp. 67 -70, lists 3 dated works for 1633, 7 for 1634 (of which his no. 345 is actually dated 1654, but his no. 361 on p. 74 is dated 1634 and not 1639), and 6 for 1635 (his no. 350  is not by Heda, but his no. 375, p. 77, is dated 1635, not 1649).

 

[iv] Oil on panel, 88 x 113 cm, signed and dated 1635, inv. no. SK-A-4830.

 

[v] For 1633 to 1635, however, Martina Brunner-Bulst, in Pieter Claesz.: der Hauptmeister des Haarlemmer Stillebens im 17. Jahrhundert : kritischer Oeuvrekatalog, 2004, for 1633-1635 lists only six works by Claesz., Vroom 1908 (see note 3) even fewer, but it is true that in Claesz.’s oeuvre these years belong to the period in which his handling was the most precise.

 

[vi] Oil on panel, 46,3 x 36,2 cm, signed and dated 1629.

 

[vii] Oil on panel, 36 x 32 cm, signed and dated 1630,  Netherlands Institute for Cultutral Heritage (ICN, on loan to the Prinsenhof Museum, Delft), see O. ter Kuile, Seventeenth-century North Netherlandish still lifes, 1985, p. 110, 111, cat. no. VI-24, illustrated.

 

[viii] Oil on panel, 40 x 33,5 cm, signed and dated 1633, exhibited at TEFAF, Maastricht, by Charles Roelofsz, Amsterdam, 1996, later it appeared with Bob Haboldt, Paris.

 

[ix] Oil on panel, 47 x 40 cm, signed and indistinctly dated, with P. de Boer, Amsterdam, 1970, published in Vroom 1980 (see note 3), cat. no. 381, as dated 1655. In 1969 and 1970, the painting was published as dated 1651 or 1659 and subsequently as dated 1655.

 

[x] The first, oil on panel, 43 x 57 cm, signed and dated 1634, inv. no. 1834, the second, oil on panel, signed and dated 1634, inv. no. 1958-1.

 

[xi] The first, oil on panel, 59,8 x 80 cm, signed and dated 1635, Richard Green catalogue/brochure 1993, colour ill., the second, oil on canvas, 106 x 109 cm, signed and dated 1635, Washington DC, National Gallery of Art, inv. no. 1991.87.1. A variant of this knife appears in several other Heda still lifes, among them the painting from 1635 in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum mentioned above.

 

[xii] The fact that this knife seems to have had a short life in Heda’s work is another indication that the painting in fig. 3 (and note 9) dates from the mid-1630s and not from the 1650s.

 

[xiii] An example of this ‘bubble’ cup can be found in an undated example, probably from the 1640s, auctioned at Christie’s in Amsterdam, 12 June 1990, lot 185, colour ill.

 

Old MasterWillem Claesz Heda