The Cleveland Museum of Art
Pieter Claesz, Dutch (c. 1597-1661)
Oil on panel
16 7/8 x 23 3/8 in. (42.7 x 59.3 cm)
Acquired in 1993
© The Cleveland Museum of Art
At once revered and underrated, the still life originated as an independent genre during the Renaissance and experienced its golden age in the 17th-century Netherlands (modern-day Belgium and Holland). Still lifes depict inanimate objects -- flowers, fruits, kitchen items -- with the artist's intention solely to explore color, form, texture, and composition.
The Dutch were the undisputed masters of the genre, and the accomplishments of the painters as a group tended to outshine the accomplishments of individuals. Pieter Claesz, however, perfected the still life by breaking out of the more conventional mold and creating a sub-genre, the ontbijtje, or breakfast piece. There were no bright colors or plentiful table arrangements here; Claesz worked with an almost monochromatic palette of brown, gray, olive, and gold. Light was his unifying element, the texture of each object all important. Nor was there abundance, as in the traditional still life, but instead an elegantly arranged collection of sparse objects -- often a hunk of cheese or bread, pewter tableware, and almost always a white tablecloth. In Still Life with Two Lemons, Claesz deviated further still, with no cloth covering the table and no ordinary breakfast foods visible. His placement of olives and lemons -- depicted realistically but certainly not considered typical of breakfast fare -- emphasized Claesz's concern with technique above content.
The popularity of still lifes through the beginning of the 18th century was attributed to a shifting economy and changing taste in art. During a period of tremendous prosperity in the Netherlands, an upwardly mobile middle class determined to rival the upper class as art collectors, but their tastes were decidedly different. Less interested in religious iconography, the public treasured the realistic portrayal of secular objects above all else in painting.
Pieter Claesz's Still Life with Two Lemons is on display in the Cleveland Museum of Art's renowned still life gallery.
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