The fifteen major works by Peeters on show at the Prado emphasize the achievements of this highly gifted and exquisite artist, whose known surviving oeuvre numbers barely 40 paintings.
Apparently, Peeters had an extraordinary intelligence and foresight. Her works were being present in collections in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Madrid, suggests that she aimed to achieve financial profit from her activities, working in a highly professional manner and exporting her paintings through dealers. In addition, differences between the manner of painting these works suggest that she made use of her own studio with apprentices.
Above: a self portrait of Clara Peeters in the painting "Vanity of vanities" (around 1613 - 1620, this work is not represented at the exhibition and is shown only for information here).
Customs and law of that time did not favour women’s inclusion in professional activities, only a small number of them were able to overcome the existing restrictions and become painters. But even in this case, they were forbidden of studying anatomical drawing from live models who posed nude, normally male. Because of this, women limited their output to still lifes or portraits.
Clara Peeters devoted her activities to still life painting, deploying a style that in the first decade of the XVII century only became an independent genre. This once again reflects her entrepreneurial spirit and forward-looking mentality. Moreover, realism was seen as an alternative to the idealism of the Renaissance tradition.
The exhibition "The Art of Clara Peeters" presents paintings created between 1611 and 1612. Six of them come from private collections, three - from northern European museums, one came from the UK and one from the US, four are owned by the Prado Museum. These paintings depict raw meat and fish, already cooked food on the tables, serving vessels, cutlery and other objects. Most of them are costly, luxury items, all painted with painstaking detail in the description of the forms and textures. The artist conveys a general sense of moderation in an elegant contrast between brightly lit objects and dark backgrounds.
Left: Clara Peeters, «Still life with flowers, gilt goblets, coins and shells» (1612)
These paintings reveal the tastes and habits of the most prosperous classes. Here you can see imported goods and foodstuffs such as sweetmeats, wine, fruit and fish (Peeters was the first artist to make the latter the principal subject of some of her still lifes). The particular interest is "Still life with peregrine falcon and its prey", where we can see a small hawk next to dead prey. This is representing the first still lifes on the subject of the hunt, an activity associated with the aristocracy.
Left: Clara Peeters, «Still life with gilt goblet, sweets, porcelain and pomegranate» (1612)
Another element that often presented in the paintings of Clara Peeters is her own self portrait. Subtle reflection of the artist on the surface of vases and goblets can be found in at least six works in this exhibition. In " Still life with flowers, a silver-gilt goblet, almonds, dried fruit, sweetmeats, bread sticks, wine and a pewter jug " Peters is reflected on the silver-gilt goblet and the pewter jug. She wears headdress, ruff and high dress with raised shoulders. In other paintings, you can see only the artist's head.
In " Still life with flowers, gilt goblets, coins and shells" we can see at least six "selfies" of Peeters. She is holding her brushes and palette and upholding her status as a woman painter, encouraging the viewer to acknowledge her existence. These self-portraits also reveal the level of Peeters’ artistic skills in her ability to depict herself on such a minute scale.
Left: Clara Peeters, detail from " Still life with flowers, gilt goblets, coins and shells" (1612) - one of the artist's reflection on the surface of the goblet on the right
The exhibition "The Art of Clara Peeters" in the National Museum of the Prado in Madrid will last until February 19th, 2017.
General view of the exhibition "The Art of Clara Peters" in the Museum of Prado. Photo: Museo Nacional del Prado
Based on materials from the official website of the Prado Museum. Main Photo: Clara Peeters, «Still life with flowers, gilt goblet, dried fruits, sweets, biscuits, wine and pewter flagon» (1611)