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Jan Davidsz de Heem

AKA Jan Davidszoon de Heem

Born: 1606
Birthplace: Utrecht, Netherlands
Died: 26-Apr-1684
Location of death: Antwerp, Belgium
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Painter

Nationality: Netherlands
Executive summary: 17th c. Dutch still life painter

Dutch painter. He was, if not the first, certainly the greatest painter of still life in Holland; no artist of his class combined more successfully perfect reality of form and color with brilliancy and harmony of tints. No object of stone or silver, no flower humble or gorgeous, no fruit of Europe or the tropics, no twig or leaf, with which he was not familiar. Sometimes he merely represented a festoon or a nosegay. More frequently he worked with a purpose to point a moral or illustrate a motto. Here the snake lies coiled under the grass, there a skull rests on blooming plants. Gold and silver tankards or cups suggest the vanity of earthly possessions; salvation is allegorized in a chalice amidst blossoms, death as a crucifix inside a wreath. Sometimes de Heem painted alone, sometimes in company with men of his school, Madonnas or portraits surrounded by festoons of fruit or flowers. At one time he signed with initials, at others with Johannes, at others again with the name of his father joined to his own. At rare intervals he condescended to a date, and when he did the work was certainly of the best. De Heem entered the guild of Antwerp in 1635-36, and became a burgher of that city in 1637. He steadily maintained his residence until 1667, when he moved to Utrecht, where traces of his presence are preserved in records of 1668, 1669 and 1670. It is not known when he finally returned to Antwerp, but his death is recorded in the guild books of that place. A very early picture, dated 1628, in the gallery of Gotha, bearing the signature of Johannes in full, shows that de Heem at that time was familiar with the technical habits of execution peculiar to the youth of Albert Cuyp. In later years he completely shook off dependence, and appears in all the vigor of his own originality.

Out of 100 pictures or more to be met with in European galleries scarcely eighteen are dated. The earliest after that of Gotha is a chased tankard, with a bottle, a silver cup, and a lemon on a marble table, dated 1640, in the museum of Amsterdam. A similar work of 1645, with the addition of fruit and flowers and a distant landscape, is in Lord Radnor's collection at Longford. A chalice in a wreath, with the radiant host amidst wheatsheaves grapes and flowers, is a masterpiece of 1648 in the Belvedere of Vienna. A wreath around a Madonna of life size, dated 1650, in the museum of Berlin, shows that de Heem could paint brightly and harmoniously on a large scale. In the Pinakothek at Munich is the celebrated composition of 1653, in which creepers, beautifully commingled with gourds and blackberries, twigs of orange, myrtle and peach, are enlivened by butterflies, moths and beetles. A landscape with a blooming rose tree, a jug of strawberries, a selection of fruit, and a marble bust of Pan, dated 1655, is in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg; an allegory of abundance in a medallion wreathed with fruit and flowers, in the gallery of Brussels, is inscribed with de Heem's monogram, the date of 1668, and the name of an obscure artist called Lambrechts. All these pieces exhibit the master in full possession of his artistic faculties.

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