DescriptionBLAS DE LEDESMA (Spanish, active 1602 - 1614)
Still Life with Fruit
Oil on canvas
23 x 31-1/2 inches
D. Santiago Pierrad, Madrid, Spain, early to mid 1800s;
Thence by family descent;
José Weissberger, Madrid, Spain;
Newhouse Galleries, New York;
Private Collection, United States;
Newhouse Galleries, New York, NY;
Mr. and Mrs. F. Howard Walsh, Fort Worth, Texas;
Walsh Family Art Trust
Ingvar Bergstrom, Maestros Espanoles de Bodegones y Floreros del Siglo XVII, Madrid, 1970, pp. 26-27, plate 6, ill.;
Ramon Torres Martin, Blas de Ledesma y El Bodegón Español, Madrid, 1978, cat. no. 72, ill. p. 183, described p. 112: "Bodegón con una cesta central con melocotones [peaches] y dos vasijas laterales con motivos florales, una llena [abundance] de cerezas [cherries] y la oltra de abaricoques. Colgadas de la parte superior hay ramas [branches] con ciruelas [plums] y abricoques."
This serene presentation of peaches, apricots, cherries, and plums all arranged symmetrically in containers on a plain ledge or as swags against an inky black background is the work of Blas de Ledesma, an early seventeenth-century painter from Granada and one of the early practitioners of still life in Spain. Ledesma is recorded as having worked in Granada from 1602 to 1614, during which year he designed a stucco vault decoration for the magnificent palace of the Alhambra. Archival sources indicate that in addition to his work as a decorative frescoist, Ledesma also painted fruit still lifes, though none of the particulars of his work in this relatively new genre were described in seventeenth-century accounts either by Pacheco (in his Arte de la pintura of 1649) or by the Granadan poet Pedro Soto de Rojas in 1652. Although the few biographical details gleaned from these sources seem to stress his work in interior decoration over his work as an easel painter, it now appears that Ledesma's work as a painter of fruit pieces may have been equally significant. In 1943, a still life featuring a large centralized basket of cherries signed by Ledesma (a basket similar in appearance to that of the present work) was published by Julio Castagny and thus became the touchstone against which other works by or possibly by Ledesma have been compared (the work is now in the collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia).
The High Museum's still life of cherries in a basket provided proof positive that Ledesma not only produced still lifes in easel painting format, but that their compositions and stylistic conventions showed an awareness of the major trends in early seventeenth-century still-life painting in Spain. As both the High Museum painting and this present still life show, Ledesma removed the depicted objects "from their natural context and rearranged [them] within the context of art, where the conventions of naturalism required a dark background and a strong light to give relief to natural forms" (William B. Jordan, Spanish Still Life in the Golden Age 1600-1650, exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1985, p. 69). As Alfonso Pérez Sánchez perceptively noted in relation to the High Museum picture (and by extension to the present work), Ledesma was probably influenced by the major talent of the age, Sánchez Cotán (1560-1627), "in the almost magical silence" of the picture and its quality of light (Alfonso Pérez Sánchez, Pintura española de bodegones y floreros de 1600 a Goya, exh. cat., Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1983, p.70). Jordan added to this observation that while the symmetry of Ledesma's painting has no relation to the much more sophisticated still lifes by Sánchez Cotán, its "disposition of the objects along a stone ledge and the acute observation of detail in the cherries do call to mind the Toledo tradition" (Jordan, p. 69).
Although Blas de Ledesma was a provincial painter with less pictorial sophistication than a Sánchez Cotán or a Juan van der Hamen y Leon (1596-1631), he contributed to the rise of still life as a discrete new painting genre in a regional pocket of Spain, and is recognized as one of its earliest practitioners. Unfortunately, in the twentieth century's art historical zeal to resurrect the lost work of these pioneers of Spanish still life painting, Blas de Ledesma's oeuvre has been bloated with paintings by a host of other hands, both better and far worse than his own. Fortunately, however, in publications with these connoisseurship problems, notably Ramon Torres Martin's oeuvre catalogue of 1978 (see Literature above), all the works attributed to Ledesma are illustrated, making it possible to separate many of the proverbial sheep from the goats.
In the way the paint is handled, the present painting appears to relate most closely to a still life of fruit by Ledesma formerly with the Galleria Lorenzelli, Bergamo, Italy (Torres Martin, 1978, no. 71, p. 183). The basket is handled with a similar coarseness, coarser than the more finely woven vessel in the High Museum painting, and seems to hover above the table rather than rest convincingly on top of it. Also quite similar is the way the leaves are handled. The serrated edges, the veins and the central stems are picked out with a much lighter paint than the green describing their flat surfaces. The plums and the peaches in both works are described similarly as well; strong highlights strike them on the top and in front, leaving only a slim margin of shadow along their lower edges to convey a sense of volume.
Condition report available upon request.
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