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Still-life with Fruit and ButterfliesEnlarge image

Still-life with Fruit and Butterflies, 1652

Jan Davidsz. de Heem
Dutch, 1606 - 1684
oil on oak
32.8 x 48.8 cm
Purchased 1982
National Gallery of Canada (no. 28140)

This elaborate and carefully organized composition reveals the mastery of de Heem, who was one of the principal still-life painters of the Low Countries. A Chinese porcelain bowl, called a clapmuts, holds a variety of fruit that attracts butterflies, ants, and other small insects. By carefully depicting the colour and texture of the ripe fruit, including some which are starting to decay, the artist introduces the theme of vanitas or the ravages of time.

Marks and Labels 

– Signed, upper right: J D… heem/ fecit

– On verso: Incised VH in ligature, presumably by the panel-maker

Joseph van Haecken

– Stencilled black paint “CP462”:

– In white chalk: “CP462”(1) , “colour good” , “lot 40” “25-4-82”

Provenance 

– 1829
M.G. Baronesse van Brakell, Amsterdam (?) [1]

– 1982/04/23
Dr. James Simon (1851–1932) Berlin, Germany; his family, by inheritance [2]

1982/04/23
In auction of “Important Old Master Pictures.” Christie's, London, April 23, 1982, lot 40 [3]

1982/04/23 – 1982/12/23
Rosenberg & Stiebel Inc., New York, United States, purchased from Christie's, London [4]

1982/12/23 –
National Gallery of Canada, purchased from Rosenberg & Stiebel [5]

Notes 

[1] A painting described as: “Op eene Tafel staat een porseleinen kom met druiven, perziken, pruimen, kerssen, bessen enz., voorts eenig bijwerk; meesterlijk en delicaat gepenceeld, door J. D. e Heem, P., h.3 p. 4 d, br. 4 p. 9 d.' ('On a table stands a porcelain bowl containing grapes, peaches, plums, cherries, berries etc., plus some additional items; masterly and delicately painted, by J.D. de Heem' measurements most likely translate to 34 x 49 cm) was sold from the collection of the Baronesse van Brakell at De Vries, Amsterdam, on December 14, 1829, as lot 22 (note: “sold 10.10 guilders to Engelberts”) [information kindly provided by Fred G. Meijer, Curator, Dept. of Old Netherlandish Painting, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, in an email dated Sept.4, 2008, NGC curatorial file].

[2] Industrialist James Simon was a Berlin philanthropist and patron of the arts. He gave a large number of old master paintings to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum and is best known for donating the iconic bust of Queen Nefertiti to the city's Egyptian Museum. See note [3].

[3] The still-life was offered for sale by Christie's London in 1982 and sold to New York art dealers Rosenberg & Stiebel. The sales catalogue provides the following provenance information: “Simon collection, Berlin, thence by descent”. In his justification for acquisition, NGC research curator Myron Laskin Jr. indentifies the former owner as German-Jewish collector James Simon. [Accession records, NGC curatorial file]. See note [2].

[4] The National Gallery of Canada purchased the painting from Rosenberg & Stiebel on December 23, 1982 [NGC curatorial file].

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