Haarlem 1593/49 – 1680/82
98 x 76,5 cm
Signed and Dated 1654


Willem Claesz. Heda was a Dutch still-life painter. He was born in 1593 or 1594 in Haarlem, where he spent his entire career. There are no surviving documents regarding his training or early career other than the date of 1621 on his first known work, a Vanitas composition. Together with Pieter Claesz., Heda developed a type of still life known as a “breakfast piece”. Hiscompositions are notable for the use of a monochromatic palette of greys and earthy browns and for the virtuoso depiction of the textures of the objects depicted. 

In 1631 Heda is registered in the painter’s guild of Saint Luke in Haarlem, of which he was dean on various occasions from 1637 onwards. In the 1630s his style became fully mature, evident in his organization of his compositions, which are no longer a random display of objects but now reveal a greater study of the pictorial space in a quest for equilibrium between the vertical and diagonal elements. 
Despite the limited range of objects depicted and their repeated use in different paintings, Heda’s works are all unique. He also experimented with new formats such as vertical compositions, while also continuing to use the more classical horizontal format. During his last phase he introduced luxurious objects into his still lifes such as Venetian glasses, ornamental silver objects and costly oriental porcelain, probably influenced by Willem Kalf. Heda’s son and pupil, Gerrit Willemsz. Heda, also painted still lifes in a manner similar to his father, and their hands are sometimes difficult to distinguish. Among Heda’s followers were Maerten Boelema, Arnold van Beresteyn and the genre painter Hendrick Heersschoop.

Heda`s earliest known work was a Vanitaswhich fit the monochromatic and skillful texturing of his later pieces, but portrayed a subject matter distinct from the depictions of more sumptuous objects in his later years. This Vanitas, and the two other breakfast pieces by Heda in the 1620s were known for their clear deviation with earlier breakfast-pieces. The objects in these works demonstrate greater special effect and maintain a sense of balance for the viewer despite the uneven and diagonal grouping of objects. Additionally, these works adopted the monochromatic style contrary to early breakfast-pieces. The colour range in this works is a subdued one of silvery grays, golden yellows, and browns, the naturalistic effects being achieved by accurate tone values.

restrained compositions of glass and metal vessels delicately arranged on a table with oysters, a half-peeled lemon and other motifs that display his precise draftsmanship and his skill in imitating the varied qualities of different light-reflecting surfaces. To a 17th-century viewer the objects brought together in this still life would have suggested considerable wealth and luxury. Not only the beautiful gals and metal objects, but also salt, pepper and citrus fruit were costly items at that time. The elaborately crafted glass on the right as well as the silver water jar, were highly valued for their material and workmanship. While it remains debatable whether such a display of wealth served as a reminder of the transience of all earthly belongings, the luxury objects clearly point to the elaborate lifestyle of successful Dutch merchants during the 'Golden Age.


Paintings in public collections and museums:
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Louvre, Paris
Gemälde Galerie Alter Meister, Dresden
Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Hermitage, St Petersburg
Pushkin Museum, Moscow
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Lichtenstein Museum, Vienna
Collection Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid



Private Collection Italy

Fig. 1. Willem Claesz Heda
Still Life: Pewter and Silver Vessels and a Crab, ca 1633-7
Oil on oak
The National Gallery

Fig.2. Willem Claesz Heda
Ham and Silverware 1649
Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia