Willem Claesz Heda presents a banquet scene in which carefully arranged food, serving vessels, and utensils have been abruptly abandoned. A symbolic overtone suggests that the enjoyments of life were interrupted, perhaps by death, or forsaken for higher ideals. This still life demonstrates one of Heda’s specialties. After beginning his career as a figure painter, Heda soon became the leading representative of Dutch still-life painting. He created a genre that he brought to perfection by repeating his compositions, changing only slightly from one to another the arrangement of objects he had chosen to depict. Here, he juxtaposes glassware, silver vessels, and oyster shells on a white tablecloth. Their monochromatic harmony is subtly countered by the pink ham, light-blue decoration of the Delft bowl, and acid-yellow rind of the half-peeled lemon. Heda’s self-contained painting expresses simultaneously an appetite for worldly goods, so lusciously depicted, and a desire for intellectual rigor, conveyed through an economy of color. Only the light falling through unseen windows, barely reflected in glass and silver and caressing the linen tablecloth and oyster flesh, alludes to a world outside this quiet interior.

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Willem Claesz. Heda, Dutch, 1594–1680
Banquet Piece with Ham
Oil on canvas
44 × 60 in. (111.7 × 152.3 cm)
Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond H. Goodrich

Current Location
The Audrey Jones Beck Building
Accession Number

[Newhouse Galleries Inc., New York]; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond H. Goodrich to MFAH, 1957.