KALF, Willem
(b. 1619, Rotterdam, d. 1693, Amsterdam)


Oil on canvas, 105 x 88 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

This is a typical illustration of the type of still-life of which Kalf was an outstanding specialist. The still-lifes by Kalf look very different from those of his predecessors (like Pieter Claesz. and Willem Heda). They are, in a sense, much more theatrical; in their sonorous quality they bring to mind the landscapes of his contemporary, Jacob van Ruisdael.

In the paintings by Heda or Pieter Claesz., the objects are ordered in a simple way; they are just laid out on the table. The light is even; shadows are used only to emphasize each object's plastic form. The still-life is generally set in a rather wide space (the painting itself being oblong). In Kalf's paintings, however, the space is narrowed. The backgrounds is much darker; and in this narrow space, against this background, the still-life seems curiously isolated. A soft light picks out each different object, showing its unique quality and colour, as spotlights focus on actors on a dark stage. In the narrow space, the arrangement too is much tighter.

For this rich, glowing kind of still-life the 17th centuy used an apt term, "pronkstilleven" (still-life of ostentation); and part of the content of this term is certainly the choice of objects itself. In Heda and Claesz. food and utensils appear that belong to normal life: bread, beer, fish, plates and jugs of pewter or ordinary glass. Kalf (and his contemporary Abraham van Beyeren too) uses almost exclusively objects that are extraordinary: vessels of silver and gold, chalices of china, lobster, tropical fruit, displayed against rich Persian cloth.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.