Still Life with a Chinese Porcelain Jar

Creation date
oil on canvas
30-3/4 x 26 in.
Credit line
Gift of Mrs. James W. Fesler in memory of Daniel W. and Elizabeth C. Marmon
Accession number
Currently On View In
William C. Griffith Jr. and Carolyn C. Griffith Gallery - H215

When Willem Kalf painted this ostentatious still life, Amsterdam was the trading center of Europe. Turkish carpets, Venetian glass, Chinese porcelains and tropical fruits were just a few of the exotic commodities brought by Dutch traders to the bustling markets of the capital. The precious goods assembled here celebrate both the artist's skill and the wealth and enterprise of Holland's golden age.

If I had to choose between the golden vessels or the picture, there is no question, I would choose the picture.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1797
Dr. Munniks (Munnicks?) van Cleef, Utrecht, 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 John Herron Art Institute, now Indianapolis Museum of Art, 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" (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 (IMA Historical File 45.9).
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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