Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
Painter of the first major Flemish ‘breakfast’ pieces, Nicolas Gillis, alongside Floris van Dijck and Hans van Hessen, was the pioneer of the genre in...read more
Painter of the first major Flemish ‘breakfast’ pieces, Nicolas Gillis, alongside Floris van Dijck and Hans van Hessen, was the pioneer of the genre in Haarlem at the beginning of the 17th century. This painter, whose talent is confirmed by the great quality of his works, provides a feast for the viewer’s eye composed of abundant tables covered in traditional dishes. In this Still life with pears and grapes on a red cloth, the main focus is on the beauty of the fruit.
The art of still life that developed in Haarlem had very particular characteristics in the history of the genre in the Netherlands. No-one has as yet located Gillis’ birthplace but it quickly became evident that he worked in Haarlem and signed paintings as early as 1601. At the beginning of his career, the various objects were arranged on a table that was sometimes covered with a cloth. In our painting, the two pears and the bunch of grapes are arranged on a bright crimson-red cloth that covers the entire table. The viewpoint is frontal, while the majority of his paintings are seen from a clearly elevated viewpoint. Besides ‘breakfast’ pieces, Gillis painted works whose compact composition highlighted two or three objects. This is true of our very fine still life which accentuates the fruit of the vine and the pear tree.
The great beauty of his work resides in the illusionist rendering of the fruit: besides its symbolism, which was gradually abandoned in favour of simple aesthetic pleasure, many linger over the astonishing finesse of the pear’s skin, and the roughness of its brownish callosities. The translucent grapes also show the painter’s delicate attention to glaze. As for the thick red cloth, it contrasts wonderfully with the texture of the fruit. Hence, with just a few elements, Gillis manages to reveal the full extent of his art. Through the harmony of the composition, the beauty of the lines, the softness of the colours sublimated by a gentle light, and the appeal to the sense of touch, Nicolas Gillis provides us, with simplicity, sobriety and yet great skill, with this very fine example of a still life. A contemporary of Osias Beert from Antwerp, who excels in this genre, Gillis adopts the canons of the great Flemish archaic still life, exporting it to Haarlem to serve the great paintings of ‘breakfast’ pieces which are still the source of its renown today.
C. 1580 – Haarlem after 1632
We know very little about the life of Nicolas Gillis. He lived in Haarlem from 1622 to 1632 and was active from 1601 to 1632. A small number of his paintings are...read more
C. 1580 – Haarlem after 1632
We know very little about the life of Nicolas Gillis. He lived in Haarlem from 1622 to 1632 and was active from 1601 to 1632. A small number of his paintings are signed and dated from 1601 to 1629.
His repertoire is similar to that of other forerunners in still-life painting from Haarlem, such as Floris van Dijck, Floris van Schooten, Clara Peeters, Hans van Essen and Roelof Koets. Along with these artists, he initiated paintings of tables laden with a wide range of recurring objects such as pieces of china, pewter plates, Venetian-style glasses, roemer glasses, fruit, cakes, butter, as well as a light yellow cheese and a dark grey cheese placed on top of one another. The latter motif would appear for many years in ‘breakfast’ pieces in Haarlem. A knife placed diagonally in the centre, apple peel hanging over the edge of the table, or a pewter plate in the foreground containing bread or cakes slightly jutting over the front of the table thus reinforce the illusion of space. This illusionist effect was also used in later ‘breakfast’ pieces.
In 1612, a finely embroidered white tablecloth placed over a brightly coloured piece of fabric made its appearance, helping to give his paintings a festive air. It frequently reappeared from this moment on. As well as still lifes of set tables, Gillis also painted bunches of flowers in highly studied vases placed against a dark background.