As perishable items, fruit and flowers are imbued with vanitas ideas. A devout Calvinist, Mignon often highlighted the vanitas concept, playing it out in many details that portray the ravages of time. In this still life the decay has taken the form of a chipped stone ledge, of rotten or bruised spots on the fruit or teared leaves. Mignon also brilliantly captured the translucent frailty of the fruit, especially the grapes, during their short-lived freshness and tastiness before they waste away. The succulent fruit is dramatically contrasted with the thorny stems of the blackberry and gooseberries while the cornelian cherries, beautiful but noted for their bitterness, add another sharp edge.
The numbers on the front and reverse of our painting appear to be seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century and are no doubt inventory numbers. The three-digit number in faint reddish paint bears a striking resemblance to the inventory numbers that are commonly found on paintings in the electoral collection of Saxony, one of the grandest and finest princely collections in Europe amassed by Augustus II the Strong (1670-1733) which later would form the nucleus of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, and refer to the manuscript inventory of 1722-28. On these works the ‘2’ is, however, usually written as a ‘z’, like with the number 23 on the reverse. Paintings from Dresden, on the other hand, normally are not inscribed with such numbers on the reverse.13 Our painting does not feature in early printed eighteenth-century or in the later, nineteenth-century catalogues of the collection. It cannot be fully ruled out, though, that our still life once formed part of the celebrated collection of Augustus the Strong, who had a marked preference for Mignon. Until the end of the Second World War the gallery in Dresden even boasted the largest collection of paintings by Mignon in a museum.14
1 Copy RKD.
2 Note Hofstede de Groot, RKD.
3 According to the entry in the catalogue for the sale, Cologne (Lempertz), 30 May 2020, no. 2077.
4 In the most recent edition of her catalogue raisonné Kraemer-Noble lists 116 paintings: M. Kraemer-
Noble, Abraham Mignon 1640-1679: catalogue raisonné, Petersberg 2007. After that a few other works have come to light at auctions that she or Meijer has accepted as autograph.
5 A. Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols.,
Amsterdam 1718-21, III, pp. 82-83. Houbraken may have procured his information from one of Mignon’s
daughters. For a more recent biography see Heise in Saur LXXXIX, 2016, p. 409.
6 Kraemer-Noble 2007, p. 31. F.G. Meijer, Jan Davidsz. de Heem 1606-84, 2 vols., diss., University of
Amsterdam, 2016, I, pp. 227, 418, note 498.
7 According to Peter Klein of Hamburg University the panel was ready for use by 1661. His report of 18
8 The IRR shows that Mignon had planned a sprig of cornelian cherries hanging over the ledge and
replaced them with the apricots.
9 Mittelrhein Museum. Canvas, 43.3 x 34.9 cm. Kraemer-Noble 2007, pp. 74-75, no. 15.
10 Formerly Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. Panel, 47 x 36 cm. Kraemer-Noble 2007, pp. 76-77, no. 16.
11 Fitzwilliam Museum. Panel, 34 x 27 cm. Kraemer-Noble 2007, pp. 80-81, no. 18.
12 Staatliche Kunsthalle. Panel, 40 x 32.5 cm. Kraemer-Noble 2007, pp. 84-85, no. 20.
13 Written communication dated 13 October 2020 with Gregor Weber, Rijksmuseum, who was a curator in Dresden in 1994-2004. The manuscript inventory of 1722-28, which is unpublished, was not consulted.
14 Kraemer-Noble 2007, p. 76. A few were destroyed during the war and others have left the collection at an unknown time and no reliable photos exist of them. Therefore, Kraemer-Noble was only able to catalogue 8 pictures by Mignon as being in Dresden or having part of that collection: nos. 1, 12, 13, 16, 44, 55, 70, 104. Gerrit Dou’s Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier (New York, Leiden Collection) also bears an inventory number on the front and is documented as coming from the Dresden gallery, see D. Surh, “Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier” (2017) in A.K. Wheelock and L. Yeager-Crasselt (eds.), The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 3rd ed., New York, 2020– : https://theleidencollection.com/artwork/cat-crouching-on-the-ledge-of-an-artists-atelier/ (accessed October 19, 2020). Interestingly, it was auctioned from a Rhenish private collection with Lempertz in Cologne (20 May 2006, no. 1040) just like our painting.