Peeters, Clara (1594–after 1657)

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Peeters, Clara (1594–after 1657)

Flemish painter of still lifes. Baptized on May 15, 1594, in Antwerp, Belgium; died after 1657; daughter of Jan Peeters; married Hendrick Joossen, on May 31, 1639.

Although art scholars have credited some 26 still lifes to Flemish painter Clara Peeters, only a few sketchy details about her life have come to light. The artist was baptized in Antwerp on May 15, 1594, and her father's name was Jan Peeters, although his occupation is not known. At age 45, she married Hendrick Joossen on May 31, 1639, and apparently had no children. Although a death certificate has not yet been located, Peeters died sometime after 1657, which is the latest date to appear on one of her paintings.

During her early career, Peeters specialized in breakfast or banquet pieces—tabletop arrangements of luxurious objects such as goblets, coins, flowers, and shells, and expensive food and drink. Her earliest signed work was painted in 1608, when she was just 14 or 15 years of age, and predates all known dated examples of Flemish still-life painting of its type. (According to Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin , "fewer than ten pictures of flowers and fewer than five of food produced in the Netherlands can be securely dated before 1608, when Peeters painted her first recorded work. Thus she would appear to be one of the originators of the genre.") The technical skill and sophisticated composition of the four still-lifes that Peeters painted before age 17 have given rise to speculation concerning how she attained her skills. Many believe that she must have received some instruction, although there is no evidence that her father was a painter, or that she apprenticed through the Antwerp painters' guild. Harris and Nochlin suggest that Peeters may have been influenced by Osias Beert, who was painting in Antwerp as early as 1602, and whose signed works are close in type to hers, but there is no solid proof of a relationship between the two artists.

Peeters' paintings are a sensual feast for the eyes, attracting the viewer with a "virtuosic trompe-l'oeil illusionism," notes Nancy Heller . A particular characteristic of the artist's work is her use of reflected miniature self-portraits, which she painted, often many times over, on the surface of a wine glass or on the shiny metal shell of a vase or cup. This technique first appeared in her Still Life (1612), which is described in detail by Germaine Greer in The Obstacle Race:

It shows three tall vessels, a pottery vase of anemones, hyacinths, tulips and a snakeshead lily, and two gilt cups with covers standing about a Chinese celadon bowl out of which hangs a golden chain. The natural beauty of the flowers is counterbalanced by a group of exotic shells. The composition is deceptively simple, for cunning asymmetries weave among the elegant verticals, creating a nervous vortex in their stillness. On the shiny bosses of the furthermost cup, Clara Peeters has carefully painted her own reflection in miniature, six times, in the flare of light from a window.

Although flower painting was popular in Flanders and Holland during the 17th century, attracting both male and female artists, Peeters seldom painted flowers on their own, although she included arrangements of them in her still-lifes. One exception is Flowers in a Glass Vase (1615), which depicts a single small bouquet in a glass vase decorated with a strange mask and a small mouse nibbling at petals beside the vase. When compared to the more formal paintings of its type, Peeters' work is notable in its simplicity and natural effect.

Peeters seems to have changed her style after 1620, producing a group of paintings featuring everyday items such as large cheeses stacked one upon another, bowls holding bread and rolls, and stoneware jugs of wine and beer. These simpler works may have been intended to appeal to changing artistic tastes, as her earlier pictures had gone out of style. A work entitled Still Life with Cheese, Bread, and Pretzels (c. 1630), representative of this later style, is almost austere when compared to earlier paintings. "Her later works reject every obvious means of appeal to the spectator," write Harris and Nochlin. "The objects shown are intrinsically humble and relatively simple to paint. There are fewer of them than in the earlier works and the color scheme is even more restricted that in the works of Dutch contemporaries such as Claesz and Heda." However, despite the less spectacular quality of these later efforts, Harris and Nochlin contend that they are quite impressive enough to uphold the artist's overall reputation.


Greer, Germaine. The Obstacle Race. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979.

Harris, Ann Sutherland, and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists, 1550–1950. CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976.

Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists. NY: Abbeville Press, 1987.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts