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The Wallace Collection & the National Gallery Art Walks

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Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Still life with lobster, 1643

À table! This seems to be the message of De Heem’s sumptuous banquet still-life, a foodie’s dream come true in which platters of grapes, strawberries, and citrus fruit jostle with pearly oysters and a splendid red lobster. The abundance of good things to eat means that that each gleaming silver charger nearly crowds the others off the richly-dressed table.

Yet there are subtle hints that this luscious painting may not be quite as straightforward as it first appears. On closer inspection the image of the artist at work is reflected in the wine glass and on the silver drinking vessel. Perhaps we are meant to infer that the rich display is an artistic illusion. And the precarious position of the glass, shown nearly tipping off the casket at the top left of the picture, may refer to the transience of earthly pleasures. Bon appétit indeed— but at what cost?


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