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Still Life with Upturned Flask

Willem Kalf

(1619 - 1693) | 834.1

Date : Circa 1645 | Medium : Oil on canvas

This Still Life with Upturned Flask (or with Silver Flask) is one of the finest paintings by the Dutch artist Willem Kalf. Apart from its brilliant execution, its skilful composition seems to contain some mysterious message.

The theme appears to be a common one in Dutch still lifes: the end of a meal. The precise rendering of materials and forms create a perfect illusion of reality. The food is half-consumed – as we see in the glass of wine, the lemon and the jam pot – as is the candle.  

But the construction of the picture is extremely calculated: the main verticals of the candlestick and large Delft vase and the horizontal line of the table, emphasised by that of the knife prolonging it, create a sense of great stability.

And yet this balance is precarious. The plate is held in place only by the upturned flask; the lemon peel is about to fall off the corner of the table, and the lid of the jam pot seems to be rocking. The picture is clearly a vanitas.

In the centre of the painting, the wine, symbol of Christ's blood, whose reflection is projected all around it on the flask, the plate and the jar, seems to hold all the elements together.