Still life in a mad, mad world

Still Life with a Lobster, 1650-9, by Willem Claesz. Heda

Still Life with a Lobster, 1650-9, by Willem Claesz. Heda

I remember a still life picture hanging in my parents’ bedroom when I was a small child. I stared at that picture for hours. I can remember the intricate details of the pinky flesh and white bones of the fish, the light peeling off a pewter tankard and the soft folds of velveteen cloth hanging from the table. Maybe it’s because I was looking at it from a place of total security, their bed, but these types of dark, atmospheric still life artworks always give me enormous comfort and pleasure. They feel like home.

I wanted a gorgeous, gloomy, ’Babette’s Feast’ style Dutch masterpiece to sit alongside the gleaming oak planks of my antique dining table. I wanted a still life picture to overlook a real life picture of a banquet; candlelight, fine wine, crystal and conversation.

I found the perfect picture, Still Life with a Lobster, 1650-9, by Willem Claesz. Heda. He is a Dutch painter from the seventeenth century and worked during the ‘Golden Age’ era of wealthy Dutch merchants.


He became a master of the so-called ‘breakfast’ or banquet still life paintings. The images in this picture all smack of a decadent, luxurious lifestyle. The craftsmanship in the ornate glass goblet with its blackberry like bobble clusters. The accoutrements of salt, pepper and citrus fruit were all very aristocratic for the time. The promise of the craggy orange lobster and its precious white flesh waiting to be broken apart. Blue and white porcelain imported from China, again hints of a patron with links to exotic and lucrative lands abroad.

Heda loved painting all these luxury items for his well-to-do clients and delightfully it is noted that after 1629 he never included a herring in any of his pictures. It was game, mincemeat and oysters all the way. Good times indeed.

I actually saw Still Life with a Lobster in the National Gallery in London and then discovered that the visual masters at Surface View have it in their archives. My print from them is on stretched canvas.


Two other still live prints of flowers that I picked up in a junk shop in Archway are currently hanging out on my mantelpiece. I will probably move them but wherever they land I think that these still life images convey the beauty of their genre: A beautiful dose of slow appreciation for life’s natural beauty. Still life in a mad mad world.


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