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Jan Jansz. van de Velde (Haarlem 1619/20 - Enkhuzen or Amsterdam 1662/64), Still Life with a Glass of Beer, a Pipe, Tobacco and Other Requisites of Smoking

signed and dated on the table at left J. v. Velde fecit/1658. oil on panel. 12 1/2 by 10 1/4 in.; 31.6 by 26.1 cm. Estimate 700,000—900,000 USD

PROVENANCE: Collection TP (or PT);
G.M.C. Hoog, Haarlem;
Thence by descent in the family, from whom purchased by the present collector

LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: N.R.A. Vroom, De schilders van het monochrome banketje, Amsterdam 1945, p. 219, no. 294;
J.G. van Gelder, Ashmolean Museum. Catalogue of the Collection of Dutch and Flemish Still-life Pictures Bequeathed by Daisy Linda Ward, Oxford 1950, p. 182, under cat. no. 84;
N.R A. Vroom, A Modest Message As Intimated by the Painters of the "Monochrome Banketje," Schiedam 1980, vol. II, p. 135, no. 700 (as present location unknown).

CATALOGUE NOTE: Highly regarded today as a subtle and inventive master of still life, Jan Jansz. van de Velde had for many generations remained in obscurity and as a result we know relatively little about his life. He was born in Haarlem in 1619 or 1620, the son of the famous printmaker and calligrapher Jan van de Velde II. His first marriage was registered in Amsterdam in 1643 and his second, in the same city, in 1656. He is thought to have lived the rest of his life there, but in fact there were several artists named Jan van de Velde in Amsterdam at the time which merely serves to confuse the matter further. Even his date of death is uncertain, though it is presumed to be 1662, the year of Jan Jansz. van de Velde's last dated painting and the recorded date of burial of a painter named Jan van de Velde in Enkhuizen.

Paintings by van de Velde are extremely rare. A little over forty still lifes are known today, and most are signed and dated. He is thought to have first studied with his father, and his earliest paintings reflect the prevailing style of the Haarlem school. The simplicity of the composition and narrow range of tones continue the tradition of the "monochrome banketje" made famous by Pieter Claesz. and Willem Heda. After he moved to Amsterdam, van de Velde must also have looked at the works of Jan Jansz. Treck. Similar motifs can be found in the works of both artists, particularly the pipes, tobacco and other requisites of seventeenth century smokers, as well as the simple crockery and glasses characteristic of contemporary taverns.

Still Life with a Glass of Beer, a Pipe and Tobacco epitomizes such paintings. Van de Velde arranges a few objects on a table top, and, using a very restricted palette and an unobtrusive brushstroke, creates a remarkable range of surfaces and textures ranging from the soapy foam of the beer, to the tough shell of the broken walnut, to the shining, transparent beer glass. He keeps everything within a narrow range so that the most flamboyant aspect of the painting is his signature, the curves and flourishes of which reflect the influence of his father's calligraphy.

The composition of Still Life with a Glass of Beer, a Pipe and Tobacco recalls a more elaborate work of 1653 in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (fig. 1). Both pictures suggest an absent smoker who has carelessly put his pipe down allowing the ember to fall on the table. The most striking similarity between the two is the way Van de Velde has draped the pipe lighter across the pipe: its irregular curve set against the straight diagonal of the pipe stem and the soft, fibrous hemp contrasting with the smooth white clay . There is nothing luxurious about the setting of either work - with their bare tables, partly consumed nuts and broken pipes - but here Van de Velde has further reduced and simplified the composition, leaving out the cards, chalk and wine glass, and substituting a stiff piece of crumpled paper for the pewter bowl that holds the tobacco.

It is the very spareness that attracts us, creating a sense of stillness in what must have been a noisy and smoky tavern. While the glowing ember, the slowly collapsing beer foam, and even the broken pipe all suggest the ephemeral nature of life's ordinary amusements, nonetheless the dominant effect is that of timelessness, which Van de Velde has created through the simplicity of the objects and the balanced geometry of the composition. It is his ability to create such remarkable effects through these limited means that prompted Vroom to compare him to a chess player at the end game: "when only very few pieces remain on the board. But the tension between these few objects is so palpable that infinte space is suggested in spite of the rather small size of the field of action."1

1. See Literature, Vroom 1980, vol. 1, p. 222.

Sotheby's. Important Old Master Paintings, Including European Works of Art. 29 Jan 09. New York www.sothebys.com photo courtesy Sotheby's