press release

The seventeenth-century, Rotterdam-born artist Willem Kalf (1619-1693) may be considered the most important still-life painter of the Golden Age. His paintings of costly glassware, glistening gold and silver pitchers and Chinese porcelain are amongst the greatest masterpieces of seventeenth-century painting. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen presents the most extensive retrospective of Kalf’s work ever mounted. With some thirty masterpieces, many of them lent by overseas museums, the exhibition represents a world first.

Paris Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will exhibit more than thirty paintings, divided between three periods: ten early rustic still lifes, five still lifes from the artist’s Parisian period and finally fifteen tours-de-forces from his Amsterdam period. Willem Kalf was born in Rotterdam and probably a student of Hendrik Sorgh. At an early age he left for Paris, where he painted subjects that he had observed in Rotterdam: dilapidated farm interiors with an assortment of pots and pans and vegetables. These tableaux brought Kalf fame in his own lifetime and many Parisian artists bought his work. Human figures play only a marginal role in Kalf’s canvases of this period; the occasional peasant may be seen working outdoors, for example at the pump. In the distance the outline of Paris’s skyline can be seen – proof that the work was actually made in that city.

Irresistible still lifes Kalf’s early works differ greatly from his later paintings. During his stay in Paris he quickly followed the peasant shacks with his first pure still lifes. These show remarkable and impressive stacks of mostly metallic objects, such as tin and golden pitchers, platters, enormous golden chargers, tin flasks and trumpets. His representation of the texture of carpets displays extraordinary skill and his ability to capture the sparkling reflections in glass and metal is unrivalled. Compared with the scale of the rustic still lifes, these new works were gigantic: one of them measures as much as two metres in height.

Back in Holland In 1646 Kalf returned to Holland and five years later he married the poet Cornelia Pluvier in Hoorn. In 1653 the couple settled in Amsterdam. There Kalf began to paint sublime ‘trophy’ still lifes, which the well healed of Amsterdam found hard to resist. He enriched the still-life genre through his rich textures, extraordinary lighting effects and balanced compositions. He knew how to create the ideal set-up for priceless objects and had an expert eye for various kinds of transparency. Although he articulated the form and material of the objects with great care, he considered lighting to be the most important aspect, sometimes reducing objects to a simple light reflection. Whereas he initially used opulent colours, Kalf later drew the viewer into a voyage of discovery within his crepuscular compositions, which earned him great fame and high esteem.

Travelling exhibition The exhibition will travel to the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen, where it can be seen from 3 March until 2 June 2007.

Publication The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue with essays on each period of his life and his influence on French painters of the period. All the exhibited paintings are discussed and illustrated in the publication.


only in german

Willem Kalf
A seventeenth-century master rediscovered

25.11.06 - 18.02.07 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
03.03.07 - 02.06.07 Suermondt Ludwig Museum, Aachen