Willem Kalf

Dates1619 - 1693
BornRotterdam, The Netherlands
DiedAmsterdam, The Netherlands

The Dutch called them pronkstilleven, pronkmeaning "ostentation," and Willem Kalf was considered this genre's best proponent. Also an art dealer, Kalf owned precious things to paint: silver and gold vessels, marble tables, Turkish carpets, and fine ceramic bowls. His sure sense of composition and restraint conferred a nobility and mystery that endowed his objects with value beyond their glint and glisten.

Born in Rotterdam, Kalf worked in Paris before settling in Amsterdam in 1653. His early works feature crowded interiors and farmyard scenes, subjects he painted throughout his life. In the 1650s, pronkstillevenbecame fashionable and Kalf's career was made. Over time, he reduced the number of objects he represented and moved them closer to the viewer. Putting bright points of pigment among dark areas to represent highlights, he developed a colorism that combined Rembrandt van Rijn's chiaroscuro and liquid impastowith Jan Vermeer's color harmonies and pointillétechnique. In 1797 German poet Johann van Goethe wrote that through Kalf's paintings one understands "in what sense art is superior to nature and what the spirit of man imparts to objects when it views them with creative eyes. . . . if I had to choose between the golden vessels or the picture . . . I would choose the picture."