Still Life with Breams, Oranges, Garlic, Condiments, and Kitchen Utensils1772. Oil on canvas, 42 x 62.2 cm.
Two splendid sea breams play the leading role here. They are surrounded by lesser motifs, including oranges, a kitchen towel, a head of garlic, and packet of what is probably spice, two terracotta bowls from Alcorcón, a long-handled pan, a mortar whose pestle leans into the background, and a cruet that participates in this work’s careful study of light as a means of defining volumes, diversifying the shades of color and distinguishing the qualities of the different materials. The result is a pictorial spectacle filled with details that reflect a powerful realism imbued with the poetic nature of the everyday.
Here, the artist reveals his tendency to work with pure geometric forms and his fondness for capturing the intimate traces of each object, endowing them with perfect spatial dimensions. In that sense, we detect a peculiar underlying play of compensated cones and truncated cones that very successfully complete the group in the background. Overall, the structural impulse is astonishingly confident, bringing a vital dynamism to the composition from the cruet to the fish, which rises as a sort of singular central monolith and reference point for the vertical elements that correspond to its linearity. Together, these two stimuli generate a cohesively balanced grid perfectly adapted to the silent serenity that this work offers the viewer.
The present work contributed to Meléndez’s reputation as an outstanding still-life painter as its combination of extraordinarily successful elements stands head and shoulders above many other works in this series made for Charles of Bourbon, prince of Asturias, who would later rule as Charles IV (1788-1808). Painted under the reign of Charles III (1759-1788), it strongly reflects the desire to show the type of foodstuffs produced in the vast terrain of the Spanish Empire, as the painter himself stated in one of his texts.
Either this work was successful, or the artist himself considered it particularly special, as there are numerous almost-identical replicas in different collections. Of course, this is hardly surprising in such a splendid rendering of the artist’s refined vision of the day-to-day world in a kitchen of his time. Today, it continues to astonish those who appreciate it for its esthetic and technical achievement (Text drawn from Luna J. J.: El bodegón español en el Prado. De Van der Hamen a Goya, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 118).