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Still Life with Rummer, 1645 or 1648

Pieter Claesz

Dutch, 1597-1661
Oil on panel
12-1/4 x 15-3/4 in. (31.1 x 40.0 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1972.39.P
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on view

Pieter Claesz was one of the innovators of the small-scale breakfast piece, or ontbijtje, in which a few modest elements—such as a pewter plate, bread and herring—are described with a limited palette of warm tones. Employing a comparatively loose, tangible brushwork, Claesz has captured the textures of the motifs and the effects of light falling on them. The artist demonstrates his skill in displaying the tabletop’s depth of field by emphasizing its proximity and setting it against a neutral background. The illusion is further enhanced by such motifs as the partly peeled lemon on the plate and the overturned cup displayed on a white cloth spread over the table’s edge.

Rustic still lifes like this, in comparison with more lavish meal-time arrangements, have been interpreted as reminders to follow a simple, virtuous life. Yet, the particular character of this breakfast piece may have a practical basis—the artist’s need to distinguish himself in the competitive art market of seventeenth-century Holland. Adopting a tonal style of painting, Claesz restricted his palette, used less costly, earthy pigments and increased the pace of his production. These smart economic and production-conscious moves did not compromise his artistic flair or his ability to depict the visual characteristics of the objects portrayed.

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