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Clara Peeters: Story of the Finest Female Still-Life Artist

Updated: 19 hours ago

Clara Peeters
Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels by Clara Peeters | Source: Mauritshuis, The Hague

It is well known that the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries have always been characterized by their richness in exotic designs, art, literature, science, and an intellectual and cultural movement that promoted science over superstition. It turns out that the century was not only a remark of the birth of two ideal movements, Baroque and Classicism, but was also the period of some greatest artists, from Rembrandt to Peter Paul Rubens, Jean-Antoine Watteau to Sofonisba and Clara Peeters. Throughout the period, we saw some painting genres, such as portraits, and history paintings, unlike previous periods, which portrayed historical events and supported heroic and moralizing episodes from religion, mythology, and literature. But as I always mentioned about the distinct art genres and forms emerging into a century, the most typical one with symbolic content that arose during the seventeenth century was the still-life paintings. I have already covered one article configuring the greatest of the still life paintings ever, which can assure you provide enough details about it. But for now, our objective is to learn about the leading female artist who painted still life paintings and was one of the finest Flemish painters. She is none other than Clara Peeters.

Clara Peeters was one of the originators of a type of still-life painting known as the breakfast or banquet piece. When we learn towards the origination of the banquet still life, it dates back to the artworks of Pieter Aertsen and his nephew, Joachim Beukelaer, in Amsterdam. And during the mid-sixteenth century, these artists created paintings to display lavish quantities of meats, fish and other edibles, including a small religious scene in the background. But during the course of this sixteenth century, these small scenes disappeared entirely, and the food on the table stood alone. However, only a handful of these independent breakfasts or banquets existed dating before 1608. It is the same year when Clara's one of earliest breakfast banquets dated. Hence, we can conclude that she was one of the originators of this kind of painting. Often including vases with flowers in her still lifes, she demonstrated the versatility of her talent through her canvases.

Discussing the Artist's Early Life.

We know only three words about the early life of Clara, "we know nothing". However, she was born in 1594 in Antwerp, the capital of the Netherlands, she displayed her talent in paintings at a very early age. Through scholars, we know that her father's name was Jan Peeters, and he was enough supportive to let her flourish artistically rather than marrying at the usual age of twenty. And surprisingly, she married when she was forty-five with Hendrick Joosen. It may be also because of the reason that it was difficult to support herself financially during the period as even the most successful and talented artists sourced income from other ways. When we look back at her biography, it is strenuous to trace the information, as aside from her date of birth and marriage; we know nothing backed with a source of documentation.

Clara Peeters Self Portrait Vanitas style artwork
Vanitas style Clara Peeters Self-portrait (Probably) | Source: Clara Peeters, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Early Training and the Style Clara Possessed.

As per information about her training, we do not know how she acquired her skills, but with a thorough comparison of her artworks with a still life painter, Osias Bert, we know that her work relates to him in a combination of objects like flowers, fruits, tall decorative metal goblets and flat dishes of fruits.

However, compared to Osias, Clara's viewpoint was from a lower space, and she employed a proper and accurate perspective to situate her objects firmly. It also made her illusion of the arrangement more enhanced.

The works of Clara Peeters majorly differ from that of her contemporaries in several ways. One such is her way of grouping the objects closer, allowing them to overlap to a certain extent. Another characteristic of her artwork is that she painted with marvellous technical control, distinguishing textures of different objects, in such a way that it conveyed a clear sense of lusciousness and solidity of her subjects. Furthermore, her gradual addition of a multiplicity of reflections in her works also made them distinct from other contemporaries. Lastly, the most crucial aspect of Peeter's art was the use of symbolic content. Now, many flemish and dutch baroque still lifes include objects specifically to remind the earthly existence of them, which we see in Clara Peeter's works.

However, you must note that after 1620, Clara began to have more humble food and drink, such as bread, cheese, olives, pretzels and beer. The change of subject may be because of her appeal to modern taste.

Briefly Analyzing Clara Peeters' Paintings.

In Still Life with Flowers, A Goblet, Dried Fruits and Pretzels, a series of four artworks focussed on a different theme, Clara Peeters showed her technical innovation. The illustration includes objects like a fish piece, a game piece, a dinner arrangement, and a work illustration. One surprisingly absorbing fact about the work, is albeit, although these were among the lists of masterpieces of the early seventeenth century, Clara painted them when she was just seventeen. It shows a simple usage of a stone ledge against a dark background. The centre of the composition is the goblet, and the centre focus remains underscored by the low dish filled with dried nuts and fruits. The placement of the vase of flowers is on the left with a counterbalance of a plate of pretzels, a pewter pitcher and a glass. If you look closely, each object is rendered in a precise style, giving diverse textures.

Still Life with Flowers, A Goblet, Dried Fruits and Pretzels Clara peeters artwork
Still Life with Flowers, A Goblet, Dried Fruits and Pretzels by Clara Peeters | Source: Clara Peeters, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Another composition dates back to 1612 in the same year, named Still Life with a Vase with Flowers, Goblets and Shells. Here, Clara uses similar objects but arranges them in a more restrained composition, making them look more austere. It is one of the Peeters' masterpieces, depicting three tall objects, a goblet in the centre and a vase of flowers on the left. Anchoring the vertical forms, there is a single tulip, gold coins, a low dish and some seashells, making the painting look more natural. She has managed to establish a dynamic composition. If you look closely, the height of the flowers competes with that of the metal forms, and all the vertical objects hold a different depth, which further energises the entire composition. Technically, the artwork is brilliant and still holds a juxtaposition of luxury and nature blended through the artistic use of exotic shells with the flowers.

Still Life with a Vase with Flowers, Goblets and Shells by Clara Peeters
Still Life with a Vase with Flowers, Goblets and Shells by Clara Peeters | Source: WGA

Some other exemplary Clara Peeters paintings include- Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries; and Still Life with Crab, Shrimps and Lobster.

Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries Clara Peeters artwork
Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries by Clara Peeters | Source: Los Angeles County Museum of Art / Artsy

Still Life with Crab, Shrimps and Lobster Clara Peeters paintings
Still Life with Crab, Shrimps and Lobster by Clara Peeters | Source: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Final Words.

With a subtle choice of objects like candles, dishes, fruits, meats, wine and even skulls, Clara has painted masterpieces which no one drew in history. Her technical skills blended with the symbolism is something, we can't see in the canvas other than hers. Truly, more than an inspiration, Clara Peeters is one of the finest still-life painters to come across.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What is Clara Peeters known for?

Clara Peeters was one of the Pioneer of Still life paintings that retained perspective and were closest to reality. She was also the first artist to introduce the breakfast or banquet piece type of still life art.

When was Clara Peeters born?

Clara Peeters was born in 1594 in Antwerp, Netherlands.

Was Clara Peeters married?

Clara Peeter married Hendrick Joosen at the age of 45.

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