This still life was one of the first paintings acquired by The Met, part of the Founding Purchase of 1871. It combines some of the most frequent props of Dutch still life—a lemon peel, the type of glass known as a roemer, and oysters, which were believed at the time to have aphrodisiac properties. The diminutive scale indicates it was destined for a collector’s cabinet, meant to be pored over by a single viewer.
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Title:Still Life with a Glass and Oysters
Artist:Jan Davidsz de Heem (Dutch, Utrecht 1606–1683/84 Antwerp)
Medium:Oil on wood
Dimensions:9 7/8 x 7 1/2 in. (25.1 x 19.1 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, 1871
A collector's item, this small panel was painted by De Heem in his Antwerp years, probably during the late 1630s or about 1640. Visiting scholars have occasionally proposed other attributions, for example to Pieter de Ring (ca. 1615–1660 or later), which is understandable in view of De Heem's pervasive influence. There is no reason to doubt the typical signature in the upper right corner, and the picture, in motifs and particular passages of execution (especially the glass, the spiraling lemon peel, and the leaves), is completely characteristic of De Heem's work before the 1650s.
The aesthetic appeal of this picture is wonderfully concentrated in the glass, with its white and yellow reflections suggesting bright light from a window. Graceful leaves and tendrils fairly float above the rim and descend to green grapes, which with the wine form a paean to Bacchic pleasures. The latter traditionally included erotic pursuits, as hinted here by the oysters, which had a reputation in the Netherlands (as in antiquity) for stimulating sexual appetites. Oysters, grapes, and even lemons were delicacies in De Heem's day, so that his subject suggests a certain level of society, one in which idle hours and beautiful pictures were counted among life's rewards.
[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (upper right): J.De heem
[Léon Gauchez, Paris, with Alexis Febvre, Paris, until 1870; 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 The Met)
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 4–November 23, 1947, unnumbered cat.
Iowa City. State University of Iowa, School of Fine Arts. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 9–March 31, 1948, unnumbered cat.
Bloomington. Indiana University. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 18–May 16, 1948, no catalogue.
Grand Rapids, Mich. Grand Rapids Art Museum. "A Moral Compass: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Painting in the Netherlands," April 16–August 15, 1999, no. 11.
Albany Institute of History & Art. "Matters of Taste: Food and Drink in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and Life," September 2002, no. 24.
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.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at The Met," October 16, 2018–October 4, 2020, no catalogue.
Louis Decamps. "Un musée transatlantique (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 5 (May 1872), p. 437.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 47.
Edith Greindl. Les peintres flamands de nature morte au XVIIe siècle. Brussels, 1956, pp. 105, 173.
Edith Greindl. Les peintres flamands de nature morte au XVIIe siècle. Sterrebeek, 1983, pp. 127, 361, no. 98.
Fred G. Meijer. Letter to Walter Liedtke. February 13, 1995, retracts his earlier attribution of it to Thomas de Paep, but feels that it looks "too weak" to be an autograph work by de Heem; notes that in any case the style points to de Heem's Antwerp studio and a date of about the mid-1640s.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 310, ill.
Henry M. Luttikhuizen et al. inA Moral Compass: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Painting in the Netherlands. Exh. cat., Grand Rapids Art Museum. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1999, pp. 64–65, 103, no. 11, ill. (color), suggests that the wine refers to lust and that the painting "invites observers to choose between temporal pleasures and eternal gratification".
Donna R. Barnes and Peter G. Rose. Matters of Taste: Food and Drink in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and Life. Exh. cat., Albany Institute of History & Art. Albany, 2002, p. 76–77, no. 24, ill. (color), acknowledge the possible moralistic interpretations of this painting, but note that the absence of the usual allusions to transience may mean that it is simply a celebration of "gustatory delights that stimulate the eye and the palate"; suggest a date of 1640 based on the influence of Pieter Claesz.; give a brief history of oysters in the New World and provide a recipe for stewed oysters.
Nancy T. Minty inMatters of Taste: Food and Drink in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and Life. Ed. Donna R. Barnes and Peter G. Rose. Exh. cat.Albany, 2002, p. 7.
Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 197, 214, 245, appendix 1A no. 125, ill.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. xi, 316–17, no. 74, colorpl. 74, as painted "probably during the late 1630s or about 1640".
Old Masters: Evening Sale. Sotheby's, London. December 7, 2016, p. 154, under no. 38.
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