Still Life with a Chinese Porcelain Jar
Still Life with a Chinese Porcelain Jar
Still Life with a Chinese Porcelain Jar
Still Life with a Chinese Porcelain Jar
Still Life with a Chinese Porcelain Jar

Still Life with a Chinese Porcelain Jar

Willem Kalf (Dutch, 1619-1693)

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The objects in this dynamic composition reference foreign and domestic commodities circulating in the great trading center of Amsterdam, where Kalf executed this painting. Imported luxury goods—the Qing Dynasty porcelain jar from China, the lemon with spiraling peel, and the delicate Venetian glass—anchor the arrangement. The ornamented silver tray and the wine glass, seated on a gilded mount adorned with a putto clutching a cornucopia, epitomize exquisite Dutch local craft. These precious items subtly reflect the light, which transforms them into sparkling gems that rival the prized articles themselves.
Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

When Willem Kalf painted this luxurious still life, his home city of Amsterdam was the trading center of Europe. Persian textiles, tropical fruits, and Asian porcelains were just a few of the exotic commodities brought by intrepid Dutch seafarers to the bustling markets of the capital.

The precious objects assembled here are carefully arranged to celebrate both the painter's skill and the enterprising spirit of Holland's golden age. On a marble tabletop, polished Dutch silver reflects the sparkle of delicate Venetian glass, while a curling lemon peel teases the senses of smell and taste. Reflections animate the glossy surface of a Chinese export porcelain jar from the 1640s. The centerpiece of the composition is a Dutch roemer, or wine glass, with an elaborate gilded mount. At its base, a cherub clutches a cornucopia, symbolizing peace and plenty, but the rumpled carpet seems to offer only a precarious support. At left, a ticking watch signals the passage of time. While enjoying their worldly success, Dutch Calvinist burghers valued such reminders that their earthly prosperity was no substitute for eternal salvation.

If I could choose the golden vessels or the picture, there is no question, I would choose the picture.
-Poet and playwright J.W. von Goethe, 1749-1832, on a painting by Kalf

Dr. Munniks (Munnicks?) van Cleef, Utrecht, The Netherlands, until 1864. {1}
Possibly (Julius Böhler, Munich) by 1934. {2}
(Dr. Burg, Haarlem) by 1936. {3}
Mr. and Mrs. Reifenberg (Reiffenberg?), Cologne and Rye, New York. {4}
(M. Knoedler & Co., New York) by 1945; {5}
Mrs. James W. Fesler, Indianapolis, in 1945;
Given to the John Herron Art Institute, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 1945 (45.9).
{1} Sold as lot no, 50 at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Tableaux Anciens, April 4-5, 1864 to an unknown buyer. The consignor was "Docteur van Cleef."
{2} This information is from Lucius Grisebach's catalogue raisonné, Willem Kalf, 1619-1693, Berlin 1974, cat. no. 135 (ill.) but is not corroborated by materials found in IMA archives, historical files or by information on the verso of the painting, stretcher or frame.
{3} The art dealer Dr. H. Burg is given as the owner in the exhibition catalogue for Tentoonstelling van oude kunst uit het bezit van den internationalen Handel, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam 1936, cat. no. 85. A label from this exhibition appears on the stretcher, with the name "Dr. E. Burg, Haarlem."
{4} The Reif(f)enberg provenance is given in Grisebach, and is confirmed in an undated letter from the dealer Paul Drey, New York, to museum director Wilbur Peat: "The Reifenbergs were not really collectors but owned a few objects and paintings, all of quality and fine taste. They acquired the Kalf from the German art trade;" see IMA Historical File (45.9).
{5} Copy of bill of sale to Mrs. James W. Fesler, Indianapolis, on M. Knoedler & Co, New York letterhead, dated 15 February 1945, see IMA Historical File (45.9).

Object Information

Willem Kalf (Dutch, 1619-1693)
creation date
oil on canvas
30-3/4 x 26 in. (canvas)
approximately 42-5/8 x 37-5/8 x 4-1/4 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Mrs. James W. Fesler in memory of Daniel W. and Elizabeth C. Marmon
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800

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