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Fruits or Bunches of Fruit

Jan Davidsz de Heem

(1606 - 1684) | 931.6.4

Date : Circa 1651 | Medium : Oil on canvas

The art of Jan Davidsz de Heem reminds us that it is risky to assign painters to a national school too hastily. Dutch by birth, this still life painter was to maintain a Dutch concern for precise, meticulous execution. But when he went to live in Antwerp, probably at the beginning of the 1630s, he developed a taste for opulent spreads of fruit and flowers that seem in total opposition to the characteristic clarity of Dutch compositions.

In fact, Jan Davidsz de Heem was a transition painter who introduced a sense of the decorative into northern still life painting, and lyricism into a genre that had chiefly been an exercise in virtuosity until then. The painting in the Musée de Rouen is a good example of the art that established Jan de Heem, David's son, as its chief proponent in the second half of the 17th century and afterwards.   

This work could date from the early 1650s, when the artist was at the height of his powers and established at the head of a huge studio in Antwerp, which now enjoyed a fine reputation. The admirable rendering of the substance of the fruits – figs, peaches, grapes, cherries and foliage – is combined with a skilful composition that is both natural and balanced, producing a highly decorative richness accentuated by the presence of a ribbon tied in a bow at the top, as though the painter wanted to represent a basket of fruit here. But this group is totally artificial, as the various fruits do not all appear in the same season: cherries and peaches come in early summer, while figs and grapes appear in late summer or early autumn.