jan davidsz. de heem
(Utrecht 1606–1684 Antwerp)

 

a banquet still life

 

oil on canvas
139.2 x 115.1 cm. (54.8 x 45.3 in.)
mid 1660s

 

Currently on view at: The Getty Museum, Los Angeles

“[P]rofuse naturalistic detail loaded these works with a visual excess meant to appeal to spectators informed by new methods of natural inquiry, keenly attuned to technical craftsmanship, and inclined to the thrall of visualizing economic affluence. As a representational mode, the naturalism manifested in pronkstilleven was itself a luxury commodity invested with a social capital that exceeded even the value of the painter’s skill, materials, and labour.”

Miya Tokumitsu, “The Currencies of Naturalism in Dutch Pronk Still-Life Painting: Luxury, Craft, Envisioned Affluence,” in Canadian Art Review, 2016, Vol. 41, No. 2, The Nature of Naturalism: A Trans-Historical Examination, p. 30.

Jan Davidsz. de Heem was born in Utrecht in 1606 to a Catholic family.1 In 1625, the family moved to Leiden, where de Heem married his first wife Aletta van Weede. The couple moved to Antwerp in 1635, where de Heem joined the Guild of Saint Luke.2 After Aletta’s death, de Heem remarried the Antwerp native Anna Ruckers. De Heem divided his time between Antwerp and the Northern Netherlands, living in Utrecht between 1667–1672, where he opened a workshop with collaborators and pupils, such as Abraham Mignon (1640–1679).3 

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The few works known from this early Utrecht period are reminiscent of the tonal pieces by Balthasar van der Ast (1593/1594–1657), who may have been his teacher.4 While active in Leiden, his work changed in style and subject, focussing on monochromatic vanitas still lifes inspired by his fellow townsmen Jan Lievens (1607–1674) and David Bailly (1584–1657).5 As a result of de Heem’s move to Antwerp, his style shifted towards the Southern-Netherlandish still life tradition of exuberant banquets and flower garlands, represented by Frans Snyders (1579–1657) and Daniel Seghers (1590–1660) respectively. The highly ornate pieces that de Heem made from this period onwards, such as this later example, are what he is most famous for.6 De Heem became the most celebrated still-life painter of his day and his success meant that he could hardly keep up with the demand for his work.7 When De Heem moved back to Utrecht in the mid-1660s, his painting technique became more polished with a greater affinity for detail, of which the current painting is one of his most prime examples. In this opulent piece, de Heem flaunts his technical virtuosity on a grand scale, elaborately depicting a contrasting play of textures, surfaces and colours. After the French invaded Utrecht in 1672, de Heem returned to Antwerp where he would stay until his death in 1684.8

Notes
1. Sam Segal, “Heem, de family,” Grove Art Online, modified 18 January 2006, accessed on 18 November 2021 from, https://www-oxfordartonline-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000037157?rskey=JDx21Z
2. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Jan Davidsz de Heem,” NGA Online Editions, accessed 18 November 2021, https://purl.org/nga/collection/constituent/1383.
3. Segal, “Heem, de family.”
4. Wheelock Jr., “Jan Davidsz de Heem.”
5. Ruth Seidler, “A Still Life by Joris van Son,” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, 1989, vol. 47 (1989), 94
6. Segal, “Heem, de family.”
7. “Heem, Jan Davidsz. de,” Benezit Dictionary of Artists, Vol. 6, (Gründ: 2006), 1305.
8. Wheelock Jr., “jan Davidsz de Heem.”

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