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J Bourjinon

Still life with fruit and shellfish

Still life with fruit and shellfish by J Bourjinon

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A precarious display of exotic delicacies and fine tableware resting on sumptuous draperies, this work communicates both visual delight and a mouth-watering anticipation of flavours to be sampled. Such paintings were desirable interior decorations for affluent Dutch merchants in seventeenth-century Holland. The Netherlands had become the richest nation in the western world, with immense wealth from trade, shipping and colonial possessions in the East and West Indies. But the blessing of material plenty was fraught with ethical problems. The idea of luxury was inseparable from notions of prodigality, waste and the extravagant ostentation of Roman Catholicism, which most of the urban Dutch had rejected. Calvinism demanded simplicity of life and unbending moral rectitude, so public displays of wealth were avoided; private interiors, however, were often still richly adorned. And splendid still-life paintings could perhaps have a virtuous resonance, reminding viewers that earthly life is as fragile and fleeting as the blush on a perfect peach. As Norman Bryson comments, 'Still life of the table is structured around [an] anxious polarity, with vice and pleasure beckoning at one end, virtue and abstention admonishing at the other'. Bourjinon's patron chose pleasure, for a painting is itself an indulgence; as Bryson notes, 'Either one rejects the world or one does not. And decorating the house with framed pictures suggests that one is not even going to try'. (from The Guide, 2001)

Title
Still life with fruit and shellfish
Artist/creator
Production date
1657
Medium
oil on canvas
Size (h x w)
433 x 1371 mm
Inscription
J. Bourginon f. 1657 (u/lined) (on table, left)
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of an anonymous donor, 1954
Accession no
U/50
Copyright
No known copyright restrictions
Department
International Art
Display status
On display

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