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In the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen

Willem Claesz. Heda (Haarlem 1593/4-1680/2)

Still Life on a Table Signed and dated 1638

Oil on panel | 50.2 x 68.6 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 404790

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Heda devoted himself to still-life painting and was based at Haarlem throughout his life. Together with Pieter Claesz., he evolved a monochromatic style, portraying - as in the present example - a restricted range of objects: pewter dish, a glass beaker, a rummer, a silver-gilt tazza on its side, nuts, a half-peeled lemon on a pewter dish, a knife, a half-eaten blackberry pie on a larger pewter dish, all set on a table half-covered with a tablecloth. These are composed on an horizontal axis, but certain aspects of the composition, such as the delicately coiled lemon peel, the handle of the knife and the right edge of the table, suggest a sense of recession - just as the two objects poised at the near edge of the table create dramatic tension. The artist has lavished particular care on the texture of the different surfaces and also, as in the case of the glasses and the pewter, on the reflections. It seems as though someone has just left the table to allow the artist to begin work. Beyond the representation of the objects, the artist has concentrated on the treatment of light and atmosphere. This is particularly the case with the abstract quality of the wall at the back. As Simon Schama has written, in Heda’s pictures ‘the objects are so subtly disposed, their relationship with each other so delicately measured, that the least dislodging collapses the whole. The cunning intrusion of the upturned glass or the casually prostrated flagon acts to reinforce the sense of fragility with which this miraculous equilibrium is sustained.’ Such still lifes are to be looked at in an ‘unhurried, contemplative manner of the humanist scholar rather than the cramming sensuousness of the man of fashion’. After 1640 Heda’s compositions are on a larger scale and he begins to use a vertical format and more ornate, reflective surfaces.

Signed and dated on the knife: CHEDA. 1638 (CH in monogram)

Catalogue entry adapted from Enchanting the Eye: Dutch paintings of the Golden Age, London, 2004