de jonckheere old masters

Frans Snyders

Still life with monkeys stealing fruit and a pot of pink carnations

Panel: 64,5 x 106,4 cm
Signed “F. Snyders. Fecit” bottom left


A painter of kitchens and abundant tables, Frans Snyders dominated still life painting in Europe throughout the whole of the 17th century. Sought after by the most important princes and respected by the greatest painters of the time, Snyders depicted wonderful scenes that call on all the senses. At the heart of baroque aesthetics, the artist painted majestic buffets in which the rich and diverse dishes revealed his true talent. With a touch of humour, the painter portrayed domestic scenes played out by animals unaccompanied by their masters for the first time in the history of art. Snyders focused on their instinctive behaviour in a familiar environment such as a kitchen or a dining room.

Monkeys in Snyders’ works are marauders who destroy everything in their path. The animal amuses and instructs the viewer by imitating human behaviour. Hence, the monkey in the bottom right-hand corner of the painting is quite obviously wearing an earring, a sign that he belongs to the master of the house but also a sign of humanity. Attracted by the fruit, the monkey is associated in 17th century Europe with original sin. Since they like to eat, Flemish tradition also associates them with a sense of taste and greed. The gluttony of the monkeys and their artfulness in stealing the fresh fruit, refers to this ancient symbolism of excess. Acting instinctively, these animals incarnate human foolishness devoid of reason.

The two little monkeys that Snyders captures in the act of theft, have overturned a heavy basket in their haste, laden with bunches of grapes, apples, pears, plums, hazelnuts and redcurrants. As in the canvas in the Louvre, these capuchin monkeys, with their black tonsure are characterised by their guilty expressions, and their pose which expresses their haste. The viewer catches himself imagining the strident little cries of these two bandits, seizing their victuals, proof of this artist’s great talent. Carried away by their greed, the pillagers pounce on the perishable fruit, which incarnates the ephemeral nature of life.

Snyders was innovative both in his subject matter and form. His painting portrays a moment captured in time, only showing the head of one of the two monkeys. Thanks to the intense focus on this section of table, Snyders draws our attention to the fruit cascading out of the basket. Arranged on the crimson tablecloth so dear to Snyders paintings, the fruit creates a volume. The harmony of the warm tones employed perfectly matches the variety of painted textures; from the rough skin of the melon, to the juicy heart of the fig, the soft fur of the monkeys and the shiny skin of the grapes, not to mention the dry delicacy of the redcurrant branch. The contrasted light sublimates the volumes and gives a natural air to the contours.

Through such paintings as these, Snyders introduces a new type of genre painting, whereby the places where meals are consumed become a stage for everyday trifles. Working alongside Rubens, the artist was encouraged to continue in this vein; asked by the master to paint the animal and plant world in his works, he acquired a certain renown. Already present in the greatest European collections during his lifetime, his art unquestionably influenced the French school; the works of Chardin, Oudry and Desportes reveal their careful and admiring observation of the work of the greatest master of 17th century Flemish still lifes.

The significant position given to animals – not only in still lifes – has led Dr. Hella Robels to say that our Still life with monkeys stealing fruit and a pot of pink carnations was painted around 1630. An original motif adds to the unique character of this superb still life: the artist has painted a clay pot containing carnations climbing up a trellis along the left-hand edge. An unusual motif for our artist, it can also be seen in another painting dated around 1627.

Provenance :
Private collection since 1898, Great Britain