CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Pieter Claesz.: Stilleben im Goldenen Zeitalter

Pieter Claesz.: still-lifes in the Golden Age Exhibition: 22 April - 21 August 2005


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


This exhibition is organised jointly with the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Museum press release, 28 February 2005

From 22 April until 21 August 2005 the Kunsthaus Zürich will show a comprehensive exhibition of still lifes by Pieter Claesz (1596/97–1660). 35 paintings by this most important 17th-century painter of still lifes will be presented in the collection rooms of the Kunsthaus Zürich. This is the first monographic exhibition celebrating the art of Pieter Claesz.

One of the most important achievements of European painting around 1600 was the establishment of the still life as a genre. While the first generation of still-life painters was fascinated by things in the outside world – flowers, exotica, everyday items – and how to fix them objectively on the canvas with a naive super-realism, the second generation investigated the full complexity of how objects are perceived arranged in spaces and on planes, how they appear in certain lights and atmospheric conditions. Pieter Claesz was the leading figure in these developments which were to form the basis of realist painting until well into the 19th century.


Born most probably in Flanders around 1597, he must already have been in the flourishing town of Haarlem as a young man: the earliest records locate him here at the christening of his son Nicolaes Berchem – later to become an important landscape painter – and it was here that he died in 1660. Haarlem was not only the centre of Mannerist painting in Holland and home to Frans Hals. A number of masters lived here who early on cultivated the art of still-life painting with their depictions of meticulously set tables. Claesz took an active interest in what they were doing but very soon began to develop his own ideas.

New artistic questions

In the paintings from the 1620s, the development and professionalisation of a number of new artistic questions can be traced step by step. We see optical perception becoming more precise, the composition becoming more concentrated, a reduced number of objects and colour spectrum. Filled with the freshness of an exploratory new beginning, these works are astonishingly multi-faceted and they lay the foundations for the pictorial form that Claesz was to make his own. He developed his own style in masterpieces painted in the 1630s and 40s, ultimately achieving the greatest perfection in his masterly rendering of arrangements of objects, either opulent or – more often – sparsely austere.

Besides comestibles, glasses, tin plates and silverware, the notion of vanitas is also present – the transience of this world – introducing a spiritual dimension into the light filling these paintings, transcending all objects. The light reflects a Protestant attitude to life which is perfectly expressed here in combination with the methods and hedonism of humanism in a manner still familiar to us today.


This is the first monographic exhibition celebrating the art of Pieter Claesz. The opportunity to compare 35 of his paintings with another 20 by his predecessors and contemporaries reveals the intensity of his artistic researches; it also sheds light on his position as the prototype for still-life painters like Chardin and Cézanne and underpins the high status accorded to his works by art history.

The paintings presented in this exhibition come from renowned public and private collections in Europe and the United States; most have never been shown in Switzerland before.


The exhibition will be accompanied by the catalogue ‘Pieter Claesz. Stilleben’, with contributions by Pieter Biesboer, Conservator of the Frans Hals Museum; Martina Brunner-Bulst, author of the first catalogue raisonné of the work of Pieter Claesz; Christian Klemm, Conservator at the Kunsthaus Zürich, and Henry D. Gregory.

A softback museum edition will be available in the Kunsthaus Shop; the hardback booksellers’ edition (in German and English) will be published by Waanders Verlag, Zwolle.

Other venues

Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum (27 November 2004 – 3 April 2005)
Washington, National Gallery of Art (18 September – 31 December 2005).