This refined and elegantly composed oil on panel depicts a still life consisting predominantly of grapes and nuts. The composition is dominated by a slightly tilted porcelain Wan-li or Kraak (1) dish which is filled with chestnuts. In front of the bowl, a pewter platter is placed, covered with several hazelnuts. A knife with an ornate handle lies next to the dish, on the left side of the composition. In the right foreground, a large chestnut sits on the stone tabletop. In the back of the composition, a wineglass filled with white wine and a high flute-glass filled with red wine are depicted against a grey background. The porcelain bowl is surrounded by succulent grapes and affluent vine leaves. The still life is placed on a striking Baroque console table, consisting of a cherub styled figure, supporting a rectangular stone top. A comparable console table can be found on a still life by Susenier which is kept in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom, on which the table is partially covered with a velvet drapery (2). Remarkable is the sophisticated elegance of the composition, which is rather rare for Susenier, whose (early) works often tend to be rather rigid. The present work arguably ranks among the highlights of his oeuvre.
Artist’s biography (3)
Abraham Susenier was born in Leiden around 1620. He lived in The Hague in 1640, when he was mentioned in a document together with the painter Johan Pietersz. Schoeff (possibly Antwerp, 1608/09 - possibly Bergen op Zoom 1666) (4). By the year 1646 he had moved to Dordrecht, where he joined the Guild of Saint Luke, the painters’ trade union, at the age of 26. Documents of creditors seem to indicate that Susenier had to cope with financial difficulties on a regular basis. Still, he appears to have been a very productive and highly regarded artist and his works were bought by important collectors. For instance, the inventory of the distinguished Dordrecht regent family Van Slingelandt, drawn up in 1682, mentions no less then eighteen works by Susenier, among which landscapes, seascapes, a flower still life and a still life of game (5). In the third volume of his De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstchilders en Schilderessen [“The Great Theatre of Netherlandish Painters and Painteresses”] Arnold Houbraken explicitly praised Susenier’s still lifes and his rendering of silver objects (6).
It is not known where Susenier received his training and if he had any pupils himself. In his seascapes he clearly follows Jan Josephsz. van Goyen (Leiden 1596 - The Hague 1656). The few remaining examples of his still lifes mainly reflect the work of the above mentioned Abraham van Beijeren (The Hague, ca. 1620 - Overschie (Rotterdam), 1690). On account of the AB monogram, several of Susenier's paintings have been misattributed to Van Beijeren. Susenier's early fruit pieces show more affinity with the work of the Haarlem artists, specifically Roelof Koets (Haarlem ca. 1592/93 - 1654) (7) and to a lesser extent to that of Hans Bollongier (Haarlem, ca. 1600 – after 1645), since similar humble Dutch glass roemers appear in most of his still lifes. The tonality of this works demonstrates striking influences of the Haarlem still life tradition of the so-called ‘monochrome banketje’ (the ‘monochrome banquet scene’) leading to the assumption that he was at least heavily influenced by the Haarlem artists (8). Susenier’s later works remind more of the oeuvre of Willem Kalf (Rotterdam, 1619 - Amsterdam, 1693) dating to the 1660s (9).
Abraham Susenier most likely remained in Dordrecht after settling there in 1646, and it is assumed that he died there (10), after 1666 and before 1672. There are no paintings known that are dated later than 1666 and he may have died shortly after this. In May 1672 his wife was buried and recorded as a widow, which indicates that Abraham Susenier had died prior to her death (11).
Date and place within the oeuvre
Until 1909 Abraham Susenier was known as the ‘Monogamist ABS’, who was identified as either Abraham Steenwijck (Breda, ca. 1640 - possibly The Hague 1698) or the above mentioned Abraham van Beijeren. Only later, this anonymous monogrammist was identified as Abraham Susenier (12). Works by Susenier rarely appear on the market and Susenier himself remains a remarkably elusive personality. In his publication from 1980, Vroom states that only thirteen works by Susenier can be identified with certainty (13). At present, only about thirty of his works can be identified, several of which are housed in museum collections. Even though Susenier is also recorded as a painter of landscapes and seascapes (14), he is mostly renowned for his still lives. His breakfast pieces most often display fruit, crabs, bread, roemer glasses and metal ware on wooden tabletops with crumpled velvet cloths, and usually with vine branches trailing over them. He also painted Vanitas still lifes (15) but only few of these are known. Susenier's palette is light in tone, leaning toward the monochromatic (16). His backgrounds are often grey and the depicted objetcs are accurately drawn. The present painting is dated ‘1663’, which confirms that it is a relatively late work by Susenier. Both the ingenious composition and the impressive quality reveal this piece as a mature work, in which he clearly demonstrates his masterful skills and virtuosity. The depiction of a still life predominantly composed out of various nuts, is rare and remarkable. Still, other extraordinary still life variants by Susenier are known, such as an arrangement of exotic shells only (17). As mentioned above, the present work arguably ranks among the highlights of his oeuvre.
The work of Abraham Susenier is represented at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna, Austria; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom; the Dordrechts museum, Dordrecht, the Netherlands; the Gemäldegalerie, Gotha, Germany; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, United Kingdom and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
(1) Wan-li porcelain is a type of Chinese export porcelain produced mainly from Emperor Wanli’s reign (1563-1620) until around 1640. It was among the first Chinese export ware to arrive in Europe in mass quantities, and was frequently featured in Dutch still life paintings of foreign luxuries. The ‘Kraak’ porcelain was named after the Portuguese ‘Carrack’ ship-type, in which the porcelain was transported and the first examples to arrive in the Netherlands were looted from such Portugese carriers.
(2) Collection of The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom, Inv. Nr. WA1940.2.80; Literature: Meijer, F.G. (2003). Dutch and Flemish still-life paintings. Catalogue of the collection of paintings. Ashmolean Museum Oxford. Waanders, no. 80. Source: www.ashmolean.org/collections
(3) This biography is principally based on: Beck, H. U. (1991) Künstler um Jan van Goyen. Maler und Zeichner. Doornspijk, p. 302; Bol, L.J. (1973). Die holländische Marinemalerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Braunschweig, pp. 170-171; Bol, L.J. (1979/1980). "Goede onbekenden": Van Calraet en Susenier. In: Tableau, 2, pp. 188-194; Meijer, F. G. (2003). The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Catalogue of the Collection of Paintings. The Collection of Dutch and Flemish Still-Life Paintings bequeathed by Daisy Linda Ward. Zwolle: Waanders; Thieme, U. & Becker, F. (1938). Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler : von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Vol. 32, p. 304; Wurzbach, A. von (1910). Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon auf Grund archivalischer Forschungen bearbeitet. Vienna: Halm und Goldmann, Vol. II, p. 675
(4) Buijsen, E. [et.al.] (1998). Haagse Schilders in de Gouden Eeuw. The Hague, p. 345, p. 350
(5) Willigen, A. van der & Meijer, F.G. (2003). A dictionary of Dutch and Flemish still-life painters working in oils. 1525-1725. Leiden: Primavera, pp. 192-193
(6) Houbraken, A. (1718 - 1721). De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstchilders en Schilderessen. Amsterdam, Vol. III, p. 213
(7) e.g. compare: Abraham Susenier, Still life with Fruit and a Roemer, collection of the Dordrechts Museum, the Netherlands, RKD.nr. 41846 with a still life by Roelof Koets and attributed to Pieter Claesz (1597–1660), Still life with fruit and a roemer, collection Kunstmuseum Sankt Gallen, Switzerland, RKD.nr. 49813
(8) Trnek, Renate (1992). Die holländischen Gemälde des 17. Jahrhunderts in der Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste in Wien. Vienna: Böhlau, pp. 364-365
(9) e.g. Compare the Ashomlean still life and the present painting to still lifes by Willem Kalf, in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, inv.nr. 2503; Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague, inv.nr. 972 and inv.nr. 927; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv.nr. A 199; the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin and The Metropolitan Museum, New York
(10) Buijsen, 1998, p. 350
(11) Willigen, 2003, p. 192
(12) Willigen, 2003, p. 192
(13) Vroom, N.R.A. (1980). A modest message as intimated by the painters of the “Monochrome Banketje”. Schiedam, p. 123
(14) A signed seascape is kept in the collection of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Inv.Nr. PD.26-1983; another in the collection of the Hallwylska Museet, Stockholm, RKD.nr. 41769
(15) In the arts, vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with Northern European still life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, (though also common in other places and periods). The word is derived from Latin, meaning ‘emptiness’ and loosely translated corresponds to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of vanity.
(16) Trnek, Renate (1992). Die holländischen Gemälde des 17. Jahrhunderts in der Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste in Wien. Vienna: Böhlau, p. 364
(17) Collection of the Dordrechts Museum, the Netherlands, Inv.nr. DM/992/697; RKD.nr. 54221