CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Pieter Claesz (1596/97 – 1660): meester van het stilleven in de Gouden Eeuw

Pieter Claesz [1596/97-1660]: master of still life in the Golden Age Exhibition: 27 November 2004 - 3 April 2005

Pieter Claesz., Fruit still life with silver tazza and cheese basket, Frans Hals Museum (on loan)


Pieter Biesboer*, Christian Klemm* and Arthur Wheelock*.

From the museum press release

Pieter Claesz (Berchem 1596/97–Haarlem 1660) was one of the foremost still-life painters of the 17th century. He was the first artist to portray everyday objects, such as a rummer, a tin plate and a herring, in such a way that they exude a spellbinding beauty. The filled rummers shine in the soft lighting. The olives, fresh fruits, crispy rolls and pastries almost make your mouth water. Many of the objects depicted were not chosen at random, but point to the ephemeral and fragile nature of life: the wilted flower, the watch, the skull, the upturned glass and the guttering candle. This is the first exhibition that will be devoted solely to Pieter Claesz’s still lifes. It will comprise some 45 major works by the artist.

Breakfast and banquet pieces
The works of Pieter Claesz, who moved to Haarlem in 1620, can be divided into three periods. Up to 1625 his still lifes depict a laid table with crockery, drinking glasses, cutlery, spices and fruit. His use of colour is crisp and clear. Later, things become remarkably simplified. The number of objects is cut back to just a single glass, a plate and a herring with a roll to depict a simple meal. The sobriety preached from the pulpit by the 17th-century clergy seems to be reflected in these simple breakfast and banquet pieces. Along with Willem Heda, Pieter Claesz was the leading exponent of this type of still life, also known as monochrome banquet pieces because they are painted exclusively in grey, brown, and green tints. This sort of banquet piece was a speciality of Haarlem’s artists of the period.

Showpiece still lifes
Around 1640, these still lifes made way for compositions with more exuberant use of colour. The number of objects depicted increased and there is a wide variety of expensive dishes and glass, and an overabundance of fruit, flowers, game and fowl. This later work also inspired other master painters such as Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Abraham van Beyeren and Willem Kalf, who were all leading exponents of this type of still life, known as pronkstillevens in Dutch. Pieter Claesz was a highly successful artist and his work was widely copied, imitated and reproduced even during his own lifetime.

The paintings are all from renowned public and private collections in Europe and the United States. Most have never been shown in the Netherlands before. The exhibition will also include several still lifes by forerunners, contemporaries and followers of Pieter Claesz.


To mark the exhibition, a catalogue will be published in collaboration with Martina Brunner-Bulst, author of the new monograph on Pieter Claesz. She will write the opening chapter and the catalogue information. Pieter Biesboer, curator at the Frans Hals Museum, will write an article on the life of Pieter Claesz, the Haarlem still life painters, and trade in these paintings. Christian Klemm, curator at the Kunsthaus in Zürich, will write an article on vanitas still lifes and the influence of what has been termed neo-stoicism. Quint Gregory, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, will explore the subject of dining and the objects featured in the breakfast and banquet pieces by Pieter Claesz. The catalogue – 176 pages, 80 colour plates, 20 in black and white – is published by Waanders Uitgevers in Zwolle. The soft cover catalogue (€ 27.50) is only available at the Frans Hals Museum, the bound version (€ 34.95) is available in bookstores.

Other venues

Zürich, Kunsthaus Zürich (22 April – 21 August 2005)
Washington, National Gallery of Art (18 September – 31 December 2005)