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Peeters, Clara

Antwerp (?), ca. 1588/90 - Antwerp (?), post. 1621

Because all the information that we have on Clara Peeters comes from her paintings, we have to content ourselves with trying to piece together a limited biography. Her first picture dates from 1607. Her place of birth is not documented, but there are reasons to think that she based her career in Antwerp. A painting in a collection in Amsterdam is described in a document from 1635 as: "a sugar banquet painted in 1608 by a woman Claer Pieters from Antwerp". Also, at least six of the supports that she used for her paintings bear marks from that city. Panel and copper supports from Antwerp were sometimes used elsewhere, but not often; it is more likely that she was practising locally. Finally, six of her known paintings include the same ornate silver knife that is inscribed with her name. Visible on the blade of at least three of these knives is a silver mark from Antwerp. At that time knives were carried by guests when they were invited to dine at someone else's table. Knives of this type were also used as wedding gifts. The knife in the paintings by Peeters could be a souvenir from her own wedding, which is otherwise not documented.
Thirty-nine known paintings today bear the signature of Clara Peeters or an inscription with her name; a few unsigned works can also be plausibly attributed to her. Some of her paintings must have been lost. Eleven of her known works bear dates. The earliest are from 1607 and 1608.
Clara Peeters was trained and practiced her art at an extraordinary moment in the history of Antwerp. The city had joined the rebellion against the King of Spain in 1576, but was retaken in 1585 by the army of the King of Spain. It went from being one of the busiest commercial centres in Europe in the middle of the sixteenth century, with a population of close to 100,000, to roughly half that size before the turn of the century. However, the Southern Netherlands recovered after 1599, under the government of the archdukes Isabel Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II of Spain, and her cousin Albert of Austria.
Nearly all of Peeters’s paintings are still lifes. Her dedication to this genre resulted from the limitations imposed by contemporary culture on women artists. But it also demonstrates her enterprising spirit. When Peeters started working in the first decade of the seventeenth century only a few such works were included in collections the Southern and Northern Netherlands. The taste for still lifes would grow substantially in the following decades.
Peeters’s name first appears in a document in 1627, when a painting described as "fish after Clara Pieters" is listed as part of the property of a woman named Lucretia de Beauvois from Rotterdam, wife of the painter Herman Saftleven. A painting by Peeters was also listed in 1635 in a collection in Amsterdam. These early documents suggest that Peeters had some name recognition in the Northern Netherlands. Soon after that, in 1637 (and again in 1655), two paintings by Clara Peeters were listed in the collection of Diego Mexía, the marquis of Leganés, in Madrid. The current whereabouts of these paintings is not known. That two still lifes by Peeters were in his collection indicates that they were regarded as high-end products. This is corroborated by the fact that in 1666 two still lifes that were very likely by Clara Peeters were in the royal collection in Madrid -we don't know how they arrived there; they are now at the Prado (P1619 and P1621).
The last Peeters work documented in the seventeenth century is a painting of birds recorded in a collection in Haarlem in 1685. In the eighteenth century her works appear in eight inventories in Paris, Bonn, Brussels, Hannover, Hamburg and London. Not a single painting by Clara Peeters is recorded in Antwerp in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. She seems to have cast a wide net, both socially and geographically.
Clara Peeters may have exported her art through dealers, which would explain the wide distribution of her paintings. In the first half of the seventeenth century Antwerp was one of the leaders in the production and exportation of paintings in Europe. The still lifes of Clara Peeters form part of this export economy (Vergara, A.: The art of Clara Peeters, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016, pp. 13-17).

Artworks (4)

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