Still Life with a Nautilus, Panther Shell, and Chip-Wood Box
Sebastian Stoskopff (French, Strasbourg 1597–1657 Idstein)
Oil on canvas
18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in. (47 x 59.4 cm)
Wrightsman Fund, 2002
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 617
A French-speaking Lutheran from Strasbourg, Stoskopff worked intermittently in Paris from 1622 to 1641. This spare picture of carefully arranged exotic shells and a simple box filled with fish and candied fruits is a characteristic essay in subtle shapes and tones.
Stoskopff was an Alsatian still-life painter born and raised in the independent Protestant republic of Strasbourg. In 1615, he became the pupil of the painter and architect Daniel Soreau (died 1619) in Hanau, near Frankfurt am Main. From 1621 until 1640 he lived in Paris, resettling in Strasbourg in 1641.
Stoskopff's finest paintings date from his Paris period. In its simplicity and allusive combination of seemingly unrelated objects, the present canvas is an unusually good example of Stoskopff’s most French-inspired work. Before a plain black background are arranged three objects: a chip-wood box, with its lid askew, a polished nautilus shell (Nautilus pompilius), and a panther shell (Cypraea mauritiana). The box was common in this period and appears frequently in still lifes of the seventeenth century. The shells, coming from the Indian and Pacific oceans, were collector’s items. As costly objects, with their sheen of mother-of-pearl, they could be seen as symbols of vanity. Stoskopff’s preoccupation with light is paramount: objects seem mysteriously to hold and transmit it.
The picture, neither signed nor dated, was probably painted in the late 1620s. It is more sophisticated than the two dated works of 1625, the Still Life with a Candle and Books (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) and the Still Life with a Baguette and Fish (private collection, Paris), and not yet touched by Stoskopff’s later striving for grandeur, as seen in the Five Senses of 1633 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg).
[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]
[Galerie Joseph Hahn, Paris, by 1982–85; sold to private collector, Germany]; private collection, Germany (1985–2001; on loan to Historisches Museum, Frankfurt in 1997; sold to Kilgore); [Jack Kilgore & Co., New York, 2001–2; sold to MMA]
New York. Paul Rosenberg and Company. "Four Guest Galleries from Paris and Paul Rosenberg & Co.: An Exhibition of French Art, 1600–1900," March 16–May 1, 1982, no. 5 [lent by Galerie Hahn, Paris; cat. unavailable, see Ref. Apollo 1982].
Paris. Grand Palais. "XIIe biennale internationale des antiquaires," September 20–October 7, 1984, no catalogue [shown by Galerie Hahn, Paris, see Ref. Scott 1984].
Delft. Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof. "A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in The Netherlands, 1600–1700," June 10–August 29, 1988, no. 13 (lent by a private collection, Germany).
Cambridge, Mass. Fogg Art Museum. "A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in The Netherlands, 1600–1700," October 1–November 27, 1988, no. 13.
Fort Worth, Tex. Kimbell Art Museum. "A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in The Netherlands, 1600–1700," December 10, 1988–January 29, 1989, no. 13.
National Gallery of Prague. "Georg Flegel (1566–1638) Zátisí," March 10–May 8, 1994, no. 75 (private collection).
Strasbourg. Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame. "Sébastien Stoskopff, 1597–1657: Un maître de la nature morte," March 15–June 15, 1997, no. 6 (on loan to the Historisches Museum, Frankfurt, by a private collector).
Aix-la-Chapelle. Suermondt Ludwig Museum. "Sébastien Stoskopff, 1597–1657: Un maître de la nature morte," July 5–October 5, 1997, no. 6.
New York. Jack Kilgore & Co., Inc.. "Old Master Paintings," January 14–February 8, 2002, no catalogue.
"Art Across North America: Paris and New York." Apollo 115 (April 1982), p. 287, ill., ascribe this picture to Stoskopff and date it about 1640–55; identify the owner as Galerie Joseph Hahn, Paris.
Four Guest Galleries from Paris and Paul Rosenberg & Co.: French Painting, 1600–1900. Exh. cat., Paul Rosenberg & Co. New York, 1982, pp. 18–19, no. 5, ill., date it about 1640–55, in his Strasbourg period.
Barbara Scott. "Letter from Paris: The Biennale des Antiquaires." Apollo 120 (September 1984), p. 208, ill., mentions this picture as shown at the Biennale by Galerie Joseph Hahn.
L'estampille, l'objet d'art 173 (1984), p. 52, ill. [article not available, see brochure from Jack Kilgore in archive folder].
Sam Segal. A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in the Netherlands, 1600–1700. Ed. William B. Jordan. Exh. cat., Delft, Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof. The Hague, 1988, pp. 88, 231, no. 13, ill., sees it as related to the shell still lifes of Linard.
Hana Seifertová. Georg Flegel (1566–1638): Zátisí. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Prague. Prague, 1994, p. 139, no. 75, ill.
Birgit Hahn-Woernle. Sebastian Stoskopff: Mit einem kritischen Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1996, pp. 152–53, no. 23, ill. (color), dates it probably in the 1630s; describes the contents of the box as small red fruits and perhaps the skin of a fish and a slice of lemon; observes that it is possible, but not compelling, that this picture represented Water in a series of the four elements.
Michèle Caroline Heck et al. Sébastien Stoskopff, 1597–1657: Un maître de la nature morte. Exh. cat., Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame. Paris, 1997, pp. 126, 142–43, no. 6, ill. (color), Heck dates it about 1625–30.
Holland Cotter. "Art in Review: 'Old Master Painting Exhibition,' Jack Kilgore & Company." New York Times (January 25, 2002), p. ?, notes that this "quiet beauty" was given pride of place in the exhibition.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 144–45, no. 40, ill. (color), dates it probably in the late 1620s, noting that it is more sophisticated than Stoskopff's two dated works of 1625: "Still Life with a Candle and Books" (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) and "Still Life with a Baguette and Fish" (private collection, Paris).
Ingrid Thomas. The Shell: A World of Decoration and Ornament. New York, 2007, p. 122, ill. (color), as painted in the 1620s; notes that "the 'Panther Shell' of the title is in fact a Humpback Cowrie (Cypraea mauritiana). A true Panther Shell is the species Capraea pantherina, which has quite different markings".