Luis Meléndez (Naples 1716 - 1780 Madrid), Still Life With Apricots And Cherries. Photo courtesy Sotheby's

oil on canvas; 38 by 49.6 cm.; 15 by 19 1/2 in. Estimate 1,000,000-1,500,000 GBP

PROVENANCE: Believed to have been in the possession of a Spanish noble family, Madrid, since at least the 1940s/50s;
From whom acquired by Rosendo Naseiro around thirty years ago. 

EXHIBITED: Madrid, A la sombra de Goya. Pinturas y artes decorativas en colecciones particulares, 1999, no. 37;
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, Luis Meléndez, Still Lifes, 16 June – 5 September 2004, no. 19;
Washington, National Gallery of Art (17 May – 23 August 2009); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (23 September 2009 – 3 January 2010); and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts (31 January – 9 May 2010), Luis Meléndez, Master of the Spanish Still Life, no. 9. 

LITTERATURE: Luis Meléndez, Still Lifes, exhibition catalogue, Dublin 2004, pp. 118-19, cat. no. 19, reproduced pp. 2 and 119;
P. Cherry, Luis Meléndez, Still Life Painter, Madrid 2006, pp. 148 & 547, cat. no. 120, reproduced p. 500;
Luis Meléndez, Master of the Spanish Still Life, exhibition catalogue, London 2009, pp. 80-82, cat. no. 9, reproduced

This beautiful Still Life of Apricots and Cherries is by one of the greatest European still life painters of the 18th century, Luis Meléndez, and in 2009/10 was included in an exhibition dedicated to the artist’s work held at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The picture is a reduced variant of a painting (see Fig. 1) from the artist’s celebrated commission of some 44 still lifes produced for the Prince of Asturias (the future Charles IV of Spain) to adorn his cabinet of national history, a private museum in his quarters in the Royal Palace, Madrid, the majority of which are today in the Prado Museum.  

coupe_aux_armes_du_comte_von_scharffenberg_et_de_la_comtesse_von_1371116061726291__2_The Prince of Asturias series was painted by Meléndez in the years 1771-73, at a time of intense activity and creativity for the artist. The commission was by far the most significant within his career, comprising almost half of his known oeuvre, and in addition provided a rich repertoire of compositions and motifs that the artist would revise and reuse in many of his subsequent paintings. In the case of the present work, Meléndez created a smaller variant of the Royal ‘prototype’, adapting his original design from a standardised medium canvas (42 by 63 cm.) to a smaller one (37 by 50 cm.), thereby necessitating a number of changes to the composition. Whilst the overall mise-en-scène is broadly similar the artist has changed entirely the arrangement of the apricots within the bowl as well as the design and disposition of the sprigs of fruit that radiate in a fan shape from the bowl. Indeed the only elements of the composition that directly repeat the Prince of Asturias picture are the group of three cherries on the left of the ledge and the motif of the three apricots to the right of the bowl (although even here, some of the leaves have been altered).

The practice of painting a variant of a work from the Prince of Asturias ‘master series’ is not uncommon in Meléndez’s work, as demonstrated by the existence of a number of other such examples, including the artist’s Still Life of Bream with Oranges and Still Life with Partridges, both in the Masaveu Collection that each derive from paintings from the royal series today in the Prado.1

Technical analysis carried out to the present work prior to its inclusion in the 2009/10 Meléndez exhibition revealed that, in keeping with other pictures in the artist’s oeuvre, the canvas was prepared with a double priming, each layer of a slightly different reddish hue and the top one made up of finer particles. The artist seems to have painted the still life elements first, leaving the background in reserve, as attested by areas of ground that can be seen around the contours of some of the fruit. A lighter, more greyish colour was then applied over the darker background to create a variable atmospheric effect. As pointed out by Dr. Peter Cherry, Meléndez almost certainly painted the present work in 1773, whilst the royal picture was still in his studio, although the tonality of the background may have been altered later. 

The Rosendo Naseiro Collection
bacchus_attribue_pietro_da_barga_actif_florence_entre_1574_et_1588_1371116297529357bacchus_attribue_pietro_da_barga_actif_florence_entre_1574_et_1588_1371116299385339__2_During the second half of the 20th century, Rosendo Naseiro, in whose ownership the present work has been for some thirty years, assembled one of the greatest private collections of Spanish still life painting ever known. The collection was remarkable both for its outstanding quality but also its encyclopaedic range, covering from the dawn of Spanish still life painting around 1600 until the late 19thcentury. The particular focus of the collection was still life painting from the Spanish Golden Age and this period was represented by a number of masterpieces by artists including Juan van der Hamen, Juan Fernández, called El Labrador, Juan de Espinosa, Juan de Arellano, Tomás Hiepes and Pedro de Camprobín. In 2006 a group of forty works from the Naseiro Collection was acquired for the Prado and substantially enriched the museum’s existing still life collection. The jewel in the crown was Juan van der Hamen’s celebrated Still Life with Artichokes, Flowers and Glassware (see Fig. 2) and the group also included an outstanding work by Luis Meléndez, of similar size to the present work, representing A Bowl of Blackberries in a Landscape (see Fig. 3).

1. See the exhibition catalogue, Luis Meléndez, Bodegones, Madrid, Museo del Prado, 17 February – 16 April 2004, p. 231, cat. no. 39, reproduced p. 233 & p. 219, cat. no. 33, reproduced p. 221.

Sotheby's. Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale. London | 03 juil. 2013- www.sothebys.com