Thursday 26 June 2008

Clara Peeters (1594? - c1657)

There are three people in our marriage:
MrM and myself, both present at the wedding ceremony,
and our second-hand bookseller, who appeared at a later stage.
Grahame has become MrM's very good friend
and every Saturday morning MrM pops into see him.

Grahame knows exactly what sort of books MrM enjoys reading
and ensures that there is a selection to choose from.
Occasionally, MrM finds something to appeal to MrsM.
His latest offering was an eclectic selection of women artists.
The Flemish painter Clara Peeters caught my eye
and I decided to find out more about her.

There is little to be learned.
Her date of birth is not known and her early life unrecorded.
The paintings date from 1608 to 1657
and it would appear that at some stage
she inherited the objets d'art of an earlier artist, Osias Beert.

Clara Peeters specialised in the still life compositions
of domestic objects that were just becoming popular.
These paintings would have been sold to wealthy patrons
and it is clear from her self portrait
that Clara Peeters was financially successful.
She sits beside her table of carefully displayed objects
with a self assured air.

Clara Peeters was one of a very small group of women artists.
She painted arrangements of flowers, metal, china and fabric
which demonstrated her considerable technical ability.
There are detailed reflections in the polished surfaces
and classical references to the transience of life.
I love the muted colour palette
and the strange juxtaposition of objects.

At the time that Clara Peeters was painting
religious imagery was forbidden
in the Dutch Reformed Protestant Church.
Artistic conventions were developed to make coded references
and that may explain the use of fish and shellfish.
Her contemporaries would have delighted in the visual puzzle
but it would require considerable study to decode now.

It is frustrating to look at the paintings
and know that they use a language that you are not familiar with.
I realise that in a lesser way the same is true of my photographs.
Each item is selected for a reason
and then photographed to the best of my ability.
I hope it is possible to appreciate the photograph by itself
but only I truly understand the context.


Mary said...

As soon as I saw her name I thought she must be Dutch. So Flemish is close enough!

Good still lifes are extraordinary things. There is an Israeli girl on Flickr who goes by the name Xaomena - her work is exceptional.

Only knowing the true context of your photos yourself gives them subtlety - no bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Lovely and fascinating to read, thank you for posting about this artist. Two things I so enjoy about blogging: I learn new things, and I connect with others who strive to express themselves artistically. Bravo!

blackbird said...

And sometimes a fish is just a fish.

(It's difficult to see these in the era of photoshop and digital photography and remember that they are PAINTINGS.)

Anonymous said...

What a clever book seller to provide you with such interesting subject matter.

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that when I last went in for a peruse I enquired if Graham had any guidebooks on Southern France. There was a slight pause and then right in front of where I was standing we spotted the 1926 edition of Muirhead's Guide to Southern France which had belonged to the second Lord Harmsworth in vgc for £4.50. Excellent maps and the place cannot have changed that much I think.

Unknown said...

A self-assuredness and a very fine cleavage too!

I love the colours of the shellfish still-life and am rather envious of Mr M's relationship with a second-hand book seller, it is becoming harder and harder to find good second-hand book shops around here, although there is no shortage of those darned publisher's clearance places.

Anonymous said...

This brings me back to my art history days in college. It was my major.

Have a good month off. Hope you have fun where ever you may go. I will miss your visits.

Limecat said...

You ought to grab a copy of "An Embarassment of Riches" by Simon Schama. Sadly he wrote it after I'd completed my history degree(in which the Dutch Golden Age played a major part) as I'm sure it would have enhanced the course greatly.

The Low Countries may well be diminutive, but culturally they're fabulous - as your pictures prove. Big things come in small packages.

Stop me before I go off on one....

Michaela said...

I love those paintings. The detail is outstanding, they really do look like photos don't they?

But I really, really love the gin photos from yesterday. Now that speaks my language!

fifi said...

I love Dutch and Flemish Still Life painting.

Not only are they beautiful, but they embody the concept of Vanitas, a reminder of the vanity of life and the certainty of mortality.

I also love the powers invested into the objects themselves also.

Fascinating! Good luck in your busyness!

Anonymous said...

Religious imagery was not hung or painted on the walls of Dutch Reformed churches, as one can see from the paintings of Saenredam or de Witte.

However, there was no prohibition against anyone having religious imagery in their homes, and a vast number of paintings and popular prints of bible scenes was produced. One has only to look at the works of Rembrandt to see this, in his paintings, his etchings, and drawings intended for sale.

Inventories of paintings left after a householder's death show large numbers of religious images, even in the main rooms. Many were far too big to be hung in lesser rooms.

Moreover, non-biblical scenes were also produced in large numbers, especially from the apocryphal book of Tobit and the excluded chapter of Daniel which tells the story of Susanna and the Elders. Images of Catholic saints were produced in large numbers for Catholic homes and private chapels, and Mennonites were less hostile to such images than Calvinists were.

It should be remembered that Calvinists were never the majority in the Dutch Netherlands, despite the rush of exiles after the Spanish recaptured Antwerp.

The use of emblems to point out religious, moral or political lessons was perfectly normal in Dutch painting. The seemingly naturalistic paintings of households produced by Steen and Vermeer are crammed with pointers to the lesson. Sometimes there is even a key hanging on a wall, to emphasize their locations. A red stocking and discarded slippers to indicate prostitution, a significant painting on the wall, and so on.

Only a minority of Dutch painters before the late 17th century produced still lifes that had no moral lessons tucked away somewhere. A rotting fruit, a wilting flower, a caterpillar, a butterfly, a mayfly, a broken eggshell to indicate the los of virginity, a watch, these are to be seen in flower paintings.

Birds are very often seen as emblems, when hunted or offered by a man to a woman, because of the connection between a bird -- "vogel" -- and the commonest verb for fucking -- "vogelen".

The style of painting now known as "vanitas still lifes" consists of nothing but emblems of transience, futility and death. Books, tobacco, musical instruments, bubbles, gold chains of office, armour, hourglasses, globes, and so forth. These were popular in the Calvinist university town of Leiden. Such symbols also appear in less obvious contexts.

Fish and bread, or wine and bread, these could be religious, and often were, but there are many other such symbols, even in landscape paintings and portraits.

alice c said...

Dear David,
Many thanks for taking the time to write such an interesting and informed comment on this post. My knowledge of Art History is regrettably shallow and so any contribution is gratefully received. I think that a visit to the National Gallery to appreciate Dutch paintings looms.

David Harley said...

As you're in London, the Wallace Collection and the Iveagh Bequest at Kenwood might also be recommended, although they aren't specialist collections in Dutch and Flemish art. The Dulwich Picture Gallery also has some good examples.

HM QE2 has a magnificent collection, but it's only wheeled out on occasion.

A little further afield, the Ashmolean and the Fitzwilliam have good collections, but they aren't always on view. The Ashmolean, if renovation has not changed everything, has a whole room of Dutch and Flemish still lifes.

All of these collections have some Web presence, so it's worth looking in advance.

alice c said...

Dear David,
Thank you! I am familiar with all of those collections except Kenwood House. MrM is an enthusiastic supporter of the Wallace Collection - I think because it is an excuse to have a break from Oxford Street shopping.

I have a number of visitors to the blog who arrive by searching for information about Clara Peeters and I am very grateful to you for adding so much to this post.