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Clara Peeters

Still life with mallard, hare, squirrel and basket of grapes

Panel: 50,8 x 74,6 cm
Signed in lower left CLARA P.

introduction

A legendary woman among the Antwerp still life painters of the 17th century, Clara Peeters was an autodidact who created, in the first half of the Golden Age, an incomparable body of still lifes. In this Still life with mallard, hare, squirrel and basket of grapes, she displays the full measure of her artistry and her tremendous mastery of animal painting.

Probably painted in the decade after 1610, this delightful representation of game sets the tone for the marvellous paintings of the spoils of the hunt displayed on tables which later attained such opulence and compositional richness in the work of Frans Snyders. At the centre of the still life lies a beautiful mallard duck whose downy coat and silken plumage call out to be touched. As in the Bodegon at the Prado dated 1611 [1], he lies near a heap of small birds scattered here and there: a bullfinch, a kingfisher, and small birds with speckled plumage as well as thrushes, woodcock and partridges. A beautiful, fleet-footed hare with ears alert completes this fine catch. His practically golden coat brilliantly accents this symphony of downy and soft textures. But unlike Osias Beert, who would punctuate his compositions with isolated objects, Clara Peeters suddenly moves in the opposite direction. At times cautiously overlapping the elements, she initiates a new approach to the production of the still life, thus generating a greater sense of depth of field.

In addition to the game arranged in a pyramid shape, the artist places an ample basket of white and purple grapes in the upper left corner of the composition. The juicy, sun-ripened fruit contrasts with the mass of animals whose colours form a perfect patchwork of brown, ochre and beige, bringing warmth and intimacy to the scene. Two discreet spectators partake of the victuals presented on the table. Perched on a bunch of Chasselas grapes, a little bird observes the scene, whilst a light-fingered squirrel feasts on some nuts. The same character is present in the composition at the Palazzo Pitti, where the rodent is seen eyeing a platter of fruit [2].

The motives presented here are familiar ones in the work of Clara Peeters. Although she applied her talents to widely varied works, such as bouquets of flowers, scenes of fruit or shellfish, in this depiction of game, she reveals a desire to move beyond an archaic vision of the genre. She devotes herself to thematic representations, such as the return from the hunt seen here, which is portrayed with a genuine sense of detail and realism. The restraint of the chromatic range, combining grey and brown, indicates a certain influence from the Haarlem school. This work unquestionably demonstrates that the still mysterious career of Clara Peeters had a major influence on the art of her time; this Still life with mallard, hare, squirrel and basket of grapes is bound to delight the most devoted connoisseurs of still lifes, the sole genre that was permitted to the several female artists working in the Netherlands in the 17th century.

[1] Clara Peeters, Bodegon, oil on panel, 51 x 71 cm, signed and dated Clara P. A., 1611.
[2] Clara Peeters, Still life with vase of flowers, fruit and squirrel, oil on panel, 52 x 41 cm, signed C. Peeters, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence.

Provenance :
Private Collection

Littérature :
Decoteu, Pamela Hibbs, "Clara Peeters, 1594-ca. 1640, and the Development of Still Life Painting in Northern Europe", Flemish Painters in the Circle of the Great Masters, Lingen, Luca, 1992, t. V.