On a stone plinth is an abundant display of fruit. Grapes, peaches and apricots sit in a costly Wanli porcelain bowl. In front of it, near the edge of the tabletop, are two more bunches of grapes, a sprig of cherries, a lonely apricot and a twig of strawberry. A cut-open melon and a corncob supplement the arrangement. The leaves of the vine gracefully wind in various directions as if performing a ballet. A careful look reveals the presence of many small creatures, among them several species of butterflies. A Painted Lady is perched on the tip of a vine leaf, a Cabbage White defies the law of gravity, hanging precariously upside- down from the thin stem of the raspberry and finally a type of Chalk-hill Blue butterfly at lower left sits on the curved stem of the vine. Many tiny glistening dewdrops enliven the
composition. Walscapelle proudly put his elaborately calligraphed signature on the plinth.
Jacob van Walscapelle was one of the most accomplished still life painters active during the latter part of the seventeenth century. Born in Dordrecht as the son of Elias Cruydenier he later adopted, together with his brothers and sisters, the surname of his maternal great- grandfather.1 Walscapelle trained as an artist in Amsterdam with the still life specialist Cornelis Kick from 1664 to 1667. There appears to be truth in the lines by the well- informed Arnold Houbraken who wrote in 1718 that Walscapelle continued to paint until he accepted another job, which he still had at that time.2 In 1673 Walscapelle had started working at the municipal drapers’ hall, where woollen cloth was produced. Here he remained in service for at least forty years. He stayed active as an artist as well, at least until 1699, as dated works attest.3
Walscapelle specialized in still lifes, which he produced in varying formulas.4 Most of them are flower and fruit still lifes, while - appropriately - among his last dated paintings of 1685 is a vanitas.5 The present painting is a wonderful example of his ability to portray all sorts
of fruit and of his sense for detail. Walscapelle placed the assortment in bright and evenly distributed light against a dark background, carefully describing the surface qualities of each fruit and brilliantly capturing their freshness. Striking examples are the lemon and the bursting grapes. The painting is a feast for the eye and Walscapelle’s keen observing eye is apparent in the countless meticulously executed realistic details. The artist certainly also delighted in painting signs of decay that add to the truthfulness of the display. Together with the chips that have broken off the plinth they bring home a vanitas message in an aesthetically pleasing manner. By showing a caterpillar with its soft buzz on its back and butterflies in one image Walscapelle alludes in poetical vein to the cycle of life as a manifestation of the passage of time, an idea that frequently occurs in Dutch still life painting of the period.6
Walscapelle’s paintings are quite rare, his output having remained small probably due to the fact that painting was not his main activity except for the brief period right after his training.7 The lion’s part of Walscapelle’s paintings are small-sized panels showing modest still lifes featuring only a few objects. A relatively small portion consists of more elaborate compositions executed on a somewhat bigger scale. The present work is an example of a more ambitious painting and in this respect it is highly comparable with Walscapelle’s fruit still life in the Rijksmuseum, which is on permanent display in the Gallery of Honour (fig. 1). Both paintings furthermore show Walscapelle’s preference for compact arrangements and they have a distinctly diagonal compositional orientation in common. The Rijksmuseum work, however, owes its refinement to the subtle colour scheme and the dim light, whereas in our painting Walscapelle has achieved an effect of extravagance. The unusually bright colouring of our still life shows Walscapelle’s debt to the lush fruit still lifes by David Jansz de Heem and by Abraham Mignon. The present work probably stems from the artist’s early maturity and can be dated to the 1670s or early 1680s.