A vanitas still life with coins, pearls, a pocket watch, eyeglasses, an earthenware candleholder, a skull, musical instruments, books, an overturned roemer, sheet music, a globe and an hourglass on a table before a curtain
signed with monogram and dated 'EC 1661' ('EC' linked, lower right, on the book)
oil on canvas
3578 x 30in. (91 x 76cm.)

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (inv. no. BL84.55); Christie’s, New York, 15 January 1985, lot 33.
with Galerie Gismondi, Paris, 1986.
Private collection, Switzerland.
E. Buijsen, L.P. Grijp and W.J. Hoogsteder, The Hoogsteder Exhibition of Music & Painting in the Golden Age, exhibition catalogue, Antwerp and The Hague, 1994, pp. 178, 180, note 1 (catalogue entry by F.G. Meijer).
M. Brunner-Bulst, Pieter Claesz: der Hauptmeister des Haarlemer Stilleben im 17. Jahrhundert: kritischer Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen, 2004, p. 336.
M. Tuominen, The Still Lifes of Edwaert Collier (1642-1708), Ph.D. dissertation, 2014, pp. 43-44, 269, fig. 95.
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Lot Essay

This upright vanitasstill life is Collier’s earliest dated treatment of a theme that he would return to throughout his career. Born in Breda, Collier probably moved to Haarlem, where he produced his most successful works, in the 1650s. As here, works from Collier’s Haarlem period demonstrate the prevailing influence of the city’s leading still life painter, Pieter Claesz, as well as those by Vincent Laurensz. van der Vinne, with whom Collier may have trained before joining the city’s painters guild in 1664. Three years later, Collier relocated to Leiden, perhaps drawn there by the local penchant for the type of learned, fine and minutely rendered works of art in which the artist specialised. Collier’s residence in this sophisticated university town came to an end in 1693, when he departed for London. Inscriptions on dated paintings between 1702 and 1706 suggest Collier had returned to Leiden, but by late 1706 he was back in England, where he spent the final years of his life.

Here, Collier based his composition on a vanitas still life dated 1655 by Claesz. For this painting, made six years later, Collier employed the main elements of the composition, including the location and appearance of the signature and date. However, he introduced a green velvet curtain in favour of the column Claesz included at upper right and altered the contents of the central, open book – here a page from the 1634 Amsterdam edition of Adriaen Cornelisz. van Haemstede’s Historien der Vromer Martelaren (Histories of the Devout Martyrs). Interestingly, the title page of the same book features as the focal point in at least one still life by Collier’s presumed master van der Vinne. Other details, including the background globe, sheet music, coinage and almanac repeat verbatim those found in Claesz’s earlier painting. Each of these objects serves to remind the viewer of the transience of life. Just as the hourglass and pocket watch allude to the inexorable passage of time, so too do the instruments and musical score imply an association between the fleeting nature of music and time itself. Similarly, the earthenware candleholder on whose lip rests a singular burning ember suggests the extinguishing of life, while the books and globe reference the limitations of earthly knowledge. The overturned roemer stands as a moralistic warning against intemperance.

At the time of the painting’s 1985 de-accession from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the skull crowned with a laurel wreath had been overpainted with a vase, the laurel leaves serving to decorate its circumference. Its cleaning later that year removed the vase, thereby unearthing the skull below. Collier would make further use of the image of a skull crowned with laurel leaves in another vanitas still life from 1661, now in the collection of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki. Further vanitas still lifes dating to the early 1660s are today in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Rijksmuseum.

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