Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Vanitas Still Life

Edwaert Collier (Dutch, Breda ca. 1640?–after 1707 London or Leiden)
Oil on wood
37 x 44 1/8 in. (94 x 112.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1871
Accession Number:
Not on view
Collier put his initials in two places on this early work: "EC" in monogram, above the date 1662 on the almanac (where the quill pen could suggest the freshness of the inscription); and "E · K" on the gold ring (Kollier was a common alternative spelling, often used by the artist himself). The painting is a fairly conventional, but well-conceived and well-composed, vanitas picture. The focus of the design in the area of the tipped-over silver tazza and green-glass roemer (which with the watch recall still lifes by Willem Claesz Heda) and the organization overall, with various X-patterns countering the impression of disarray, indicate that in his early twenties Collier had already mastered the syntax of a visual language in which earlier masters, including Pieter Claesz and Jan de Heem, had expressed themselves. The actual execution is another matter: Collier has a dry, rather petty touch, which he overcomes somewhat in the elaborate decorations of the tazza and other reflective surfaces. Even allowing for condition problems, however, the pearls (on a red ribbon), the moneybag, the oil lamp (with a faintly smoking wick), and the books look nearly as wooden as the violin and the shawm. Later works cannot be described as great advances beyond this point.

Heda also comes to mind in connection with the fancy glass pitcher in the left background, and with the "monochrome" tonality throughout. Except for isolated patches of local color, the palette is quite restrained, perhaps in deference to the sober tenor of the subject. Some loss of color is the result of age, but the hints of burgundy in the table cover and the red in the flag were always subordinate to browns.

The flag must refer to military or, more specifically, civic guard service, and is thus a sign of worldly honor (compare Rembrandt's The Standard Bearer (Floris Soop) in The Met's collection, 49.7.35). In general, the objects refer to wealth and individual accomplishment, with (as often in Leiden still lifes) the vanity of learning given particular emphasis. Literature, secular music (unidentified), and hobbies such as astronomy (indicated by the crude version of a Blaeu celestial globe) will all pass away like whiffs of smoke, days marked by an almanac, hours ticked off by a watch, a tune played on the shawm, and measures of music. A string on the violin has conspicuously snapped. In this familiar context one hardly needs the skull, the hourglass, and the inscription in the center, "VANITAS."

Collier often included books and prints in his vanitas pictures. In some cases they represent mundane diversions, but usually the books and the person portrayed in a print are meant for the viewer's edification. The portrait print of the popular writer Jacob Cats (1577-1660) in The Met's painting was engraved by Michael Natalis after Pieter Dubordieu, and was published in Alle de wercken van Jacob Cats (1655). Collier raised and enlarged the first line of the inscription, which is below the image in the actual print, and set it off on a plaque. Cats had recently died, and he serves here as an exemplary figure, remembered for public service and moral advice. The large book is one volume of a Dutch edition of The Decades, or Fifty Sermons Divided into Five Decades, by the Swiss reformer Johann Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575). Each "decade" consists of ten sermons. The third decade opens with sermons on material possessions, wealth, theft, and so on.

The earliest known dated painting by Collier is evidently a less ambitious vanitas still life of 1661 (sold by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco at Christie's, New York, June 15, 1985, no. 33), in which some similar motifs are found. Several still lifes by Collier are dated 1662, including a canvas in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; a canvas on the art market in 1999; and another sold in 2001. Comparable pictures date from the succeeding years.

[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (left, on book): ·EC· [monogram] / 1662; inscribed: (lower left, on ring) E·K; (lower left, on book) Almanach . . .; (center, on bookmark) VANITAS; (lower center, on print) IACOB. CATZ. RIDDER RAED / PENSION. VAN. H. M. HEEREN. / STATEN. VAN. HOLLANT. CVRAT. (Jacob Cats, grand pensionary of their majesties the lords of the States of Holland); (right, on book) DE DERDE ENDE / VIERDE DECAS DER SER. / MOONEN HENRCHI BVLLINGE / . . . / DAT TWEEDE DEEL / JESVS. / DESE·IS MYN LIEVE SONE / in den welcken mijn ziele te / vrede is. Hoort hem.Mat (The third and fourth decades of the sermons of Heinrich Bullinger . . . Volume Two. Jesus. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. Mat[thew 17:5])
?by descent to Martin Comte Cornet de Ways Ruart, Brussels (until d. 1870); [Étienne Le Roy, Brussels, through Léon Gauchez, Paris, until 1870, as by Caesar van Everdingen; sold to Blodgett]; William T. Blodgett, Paris and New York (1870–71; sold half share to Johnston); William T. Blodgett, New York, and John Taylor Johnston, New York (1871; sold to MMA)
Hartford, Conn. Wadsworth Atheneum. "The Painters of Still Life," January 25–February 15, 1938, no. 12.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Junior Museum. "The Age of Discovery," October 1, 1957–June 30, 1958, no catalogue?

New York. Union League Club. "Exhibition from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 23, 1969–January 2, 1970, checklist no. 7.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

Louis Decamps. "Un musée transatlantique (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 5 (May 1872), p. 437, cites the work as "une remarquable 'Vanitas'" by Caesar van Everdingen.

F[ritz von]. Harck. "Berichte und Mittheilungen aus Sammlungen und Museen, über staatliche Kunstpflege und Restaurationen, neue Funde: Aus amerikanischen Galerien." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 11 (1888), pp. 76–77, notes that the picture is called a Van Everdingen but instead suggests Collier's authorship based on the monogram.

E. W. Moes in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme. Vol. 7, Leipzig, 1912, p. 263, calls it Collier's earliest dated work.

Alphonsus Petrus Antonius Vorenkamp. Bijdrage tot de Geschiedenis van het hollandsch Stilleven in de zeventiende Eeuw. PhD diss., Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden. Leiden, 1933, p. 108, as the artist's earliest known work, dated 1662.

E. de Jongh in Still-Life in the Age of Rembrandt. Exh. cat., Auckland City Art Gallery. Auckland, New Zealand, 1982, pp. 201, 203 n. 15, under no. 40, dates a vanitas still life painting in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, to Collier's early period, based on comparison with the MMA's picture and others.

Laurens J. Bol. Holländische Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts nahe de grossen Meistern: Landschaften und Stilleben. 2nd ed. Munich, 1982, p. 354, as the earliest known dated work by Collier.

Ann Jensen Adams. Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections. Exh. cat., National Academy of Design. New York, 1988, p. 45, under no. 13, refers to the MMA's picture in order to date a painting by Collier in a private collection.

Erika Gemar-Koeltzsch. Luca Bild-Lexikon: Holländische Stillebenmaler im 17. Jahrhundert. Ed. Klaus Ertz and Christa Nitze-Ertz. Lingen, Germany, 1995, vol. 2, p. 256, no. 80/2, ill.

Maarten Wurfbain in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 7, New York, 1996, p. 568.

F.G. Meijer in Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker. Ed. Gunter Meissner. Vol. 20, Munich, 1998, p. 300.

Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 197, 203, 245, appendix 1A no. 65, ill.

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 131–32, no. 29, colorpl. 29.

Important Old Master Paintings: Part I. Sotheby's, New York. January 31, 2013, p. 192, under no. 68, mentions it in connection with two other vanitas still lifes by Collier dated 1662: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. no. SK-A-3471), and no. 68.

Old Master & British Paintings. Christie's, London. December 9, 2015, p. 60, under no. 149.

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