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Banquet Still Life

Photo: Paul Macapia

Banquet Still Life

ca. 1653 - 55

Abraham van Beyeren

Dutch, ca. 1620/21-1690

Is this glittering array a banquet about to take place or the remains of a feast? Does it whet your appetite or repel you? Or both? Contradictions are inherent in this microcosm of the riches enjoyed by seventeenth-century Holland at the height of its dominance of world trade: Chinese export ware, imported fruits, Venetian-style glassware, Dutch silver and a nautilus shell in a gilt mount. Dutch consumers reveled in these earthly pleasures, but would have recognized a cautionary tone lurking below the surface of all this casual opulence: tipped-over vessels suggest worrisome disorder, half-eaten foods will grow stale or spoil, and a watch in the foreground is a reminder that sensual pleasures are fleeting.

Oil on canvas
42 1/8 x 45 1/2 in. (107 x 115.5 cm)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
61.146
Provenance: Francis Charles Hastings Russell, 9th Duke of Bedford (1819-1891), Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, England, by 1890 (published Sir George Scharf, Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Woburn Abbey, London, 1890, p. 267, cat. no. 431, as Jan Weenix); by inheritance to George William Francis Sackville Russell, 10th Duke of Bedford (1852-1893), Woburn Abbey; by inheritance to Herbrand Arthur Russell, 11th Duke of Bedford (1858-1940), Woburn Abbey; by inheritance to Hastings William Sackville Russell, 12th Duke of Bedford (1888-1953), Woburn Abbey; [Hastings William Sackville Russell sale, Christie’s, London, January 19, 1951, p. 5, cat. no. 7]; [William Sabin]; [David M. Koetser Gallery, New York]; purchased from Koetser by Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York, January 20, 1954 (exhibited Exhibition of Art Treasures For America from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, 10 Dec 1961-4 Feb 1962, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., cat. no. 8; Fetes de la Palette, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art , New Orleans, LA, 1962-63, cat. no. 18); Seattle Art Museum, since 1954, accessioned 1961
Photo: Paul Macapia
location
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum

Excess and Restraint in Seventeenth-Century Holland

The Dutch provinces achieved independence from Spain in 1648, by which time they were already the dominant economic power in Europe. Holdings in North and South America, the Caribbean and Africa, as well as the establishment of the Dutch East India Company, which gave them a monopoly on Asian trade, made the Dutch the traders of the world. Unprecedented wealth and international power aroused mixed feelings in the Netherlands, creating a conflict between sober Calvinist morality and enthralled delight in the sheer variety of goods pouring into the country.

In the map to the left, light green areas represent lands controlled by the Dutch East India Company, and dark green areas represent lands controlled by the Dutch West India Company.
Map of Dutch colonial holdings
Map of Dutch colonial holdings
Image from Wikipedia, licensed under Creative Commons

Nature and Artifice

Detail of artist's reflection, 61.146
For centuries, artists have explored the relationship between art and nature; it has often been a subject in itself. This painting addresses the theme in several ways.

The message that life's pleasures are fleeting, achieved through an inventory of the objects depicted, might lead to the observation that art outlasts life: because of the artist's skill, the food will never spoil and objects will never teeter off the table.

The artist's reflection in the silver wine ewer reminds the viewer that behind this impressive array is the painter himself, who arranged the objects, observed them and rendered them with bravura.

A sly detail questions this supposed direct observation. The reflection shows the artist in a Dutch studio with a four-paned window, very different from the architectural setting of the still life. Is it possible that in his studio, Van Beyeren concocted the whole thing—that the painting is an invention rather than a recording?

Like many still-life artists who found a commercial formula that reached a broad popular audience, Van Beyeren either kept a group of expensive decorative vessels or, more likely, drawings of them, and then recycled their images throughout his paintings.
Banquet Still Life, 1667, Abraham van Beyeren
The silver plooi (pleated) platter, watch, peeled orange, silver charger and footed tazza are repeated in the Seattle Art Museum's painting. The white cloth is also similar.

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Emblem "Vroeg rijp, vroeg rot," from Sinnepoppen, 1614, Roemer Visscher, Amsterdam
In the seventeenth century, the Netherlands dominated international trade among European countries through its command of international waters. Amsterdam rose to become a leading European city, and the country, including its rising merchant class, enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and became enthusiastic and prolific consumers. This sudden advance was accompanied by cautionary messages and a concern that the good times could not last. Sobering messages about careless over-indulgence permeated literature and the visual arts, summed up in a Dutch emblem, "Early Ripe, Early Rot." In the visual arts, the language of these messages could be understated.
Grace Before a Meal, 1660, Jan Steen
Here a humble family is shown as a virtuous example, giving thanks for a simple meal.
Photo: Eduardo Calderón
Banquet Still Life, ca. 1653-55, Abraham van Beyeren, 61.146
Underlying the pleasures spread before us is a sobering message of restraint. How does Van Beyeren convey this idea?

Wine glasses are half-full, an image of moderation.

Fruits are shown in full ripeness, a moment of perfection that cannot last.

Expensive vessels are tipped over, upsetting the order that was a virtue of Dutch domestic life.

A watch with a blue ribbon sits at the center of the composition, reminding us that time is running out and we would do better to turn our thoughts from earthly pleasures.

Resources

Exhibition HistoryWashington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Art Treasures for America from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Dec. 10, 1961–Feb. 4, 1962. Cat. no. 8.

New Orleans, La., Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, Fetes de la Palette, Nov. 22, 1962-Jan. 5, 1963. Text by James B. Byrnes. Cat. no. 18, pl. 59 and cover, referenced in introductory essay with no page numbers.

Raleigh, N.C., North Carolina Museum of Art, A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Feb. 5-Apr. 24, 1994 (Houston, Tex., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, May 22-Aug. 14, 1994; Seattle, Wash., Seattle Art Museum, Sept. 15-Nov. 20, 1994; San Francisco, Calif., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Dec. 17, 1994-Mar. 4, 1995). Text by Chiyo Ishikawa et al. Cat. no. 26, pp. 174-177.

Osaka, Japan, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, The Public and the Private In the Age of Vermeer, Apr. 4-July 2, 2000. Text by Quint Gregory et al. Cat. no. 15, pp.104-107, reproduced p. 105 and detail p. 107.

Seattle, Wash., Seattle Art Museum, Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe, Feb. 17-May 7, 2000. Text by Julie Emerson. Pl. 9.1, reproduced p. 103.

Atlanta, Ga., High Museum of Art, Inspiring Impressionism: The Impressionists and the Art of the Past, Oct. 13, 2007-Jan. 13, 2008 (Denver, Colo., Denver Art Museum, Feb. 23-May 25, 2008; Seattle, Wash., Seattle Art Museum, June 19-Sept. 21, 2008). Text by Lesley Stevenson et al. Cat. no. 6, pp. 188-189, reproduced p. 189.
Published Referencesvon Bode, Wilhelm Arnold. Die Meister der Hollandischen und Vlamischen Malerschulen. Leipzig: 1917.

van Gelder, H.E. W.C. Heda, A. van Beyeren, W. Kalf. Palet Series. Amsterdam: H.J.W. Becht, 1941; pp. 21-38.

Christie's advertisement, Burlington Magazine 92, no. 573 (December 1950): p. i.

c.f. Sterling, Charles. La Nature Morte de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Paris: Tisné, 1952; p. 46.

Suida, William and Richard Fuller. European Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1954; p. 64, reproduced p. 65.

c.f. Bergstrom, Ingvar. Dutch Still Life Painting in the Seventeenth Century. Translated by Christina Hedstrom and Gerald Taylor. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, Inc., 1956; pp. 229-246.

c.f. Francis, Henry S. “Abraham Van Beyeren: Still Life with Silver Wine Jar and Reflected Portrait of the Artist.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 47, no. 6 (November 1960): pp. 213-214.

Emerson, Guy. "Kress Collection, A Gift to the Nation." National Geographic 120, no. 6 (December 1961): p. 865.

Rumpf, Barbara. "Still With Us: The Still Life." Puget Soundings (November 1964): p. 27.

Engagement book. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1968; week of Nov. 24-30.

"The Baroque: The Age and Its Art." Filmstrip. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Warren Schloat Productions, 1968.

Puget Soundings. Junior League of Seattle (December 1973): reproduced on front cover.

c.f. Sullivan, Scott A. "A Banquet Piece with Vanitas Implications." The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 61, no. 8 (October 1974): pp. 271-282.

Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools, Excluding Italian, 4 vols. London: Phaidon Press, 1977; IV, pp. 154-155.

c.f. Sullivan, Scott A. "Abraham van Beyeren's ‘Visserij-bord’ in the Groote Kerk, Maassluis." Oud-Holland 101 (1987): pp. 115-125.

c.f. Broos, Ben, et al. Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. Cat. The Hague, Netherlands: Mauritshuis; Zwolle, Netherlands: Waanders Publishers, 1990; pp. 159-163.

c.f. Orr, Lynn Federle, et al. Rembrandt to Renoir: 300 Years of European Masterpieces from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Exh. Cat. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland City Art Gallery in association with the National Gallery of Australia, 1993; cat. no. 14.

Ishikawa, Chiyo. The Samuel H. Kress Collection at the Seattle Art Museum. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1997; fig. 43, pp. 66-69, reproduced p. 17.

Miller, Jonathan. On Reflection. London: National Gallery Publications, distributed by Yale University Press, 1998; reproduced p. 42, full image and detail.

Collins, Jeffrey. "Review: Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe." Eighteenth-Century Studies 34, no. 1 (Fall 2000): pp.116-120.

Seattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures. London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007; pp. 58-59, reproduced p. 58.

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