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Work Fruit and Vegetables with a Monkey, Parrot and Squirrel

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

Fruits et légumes avec un singe, un perroquet et un écureuil

© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
Flemish painting

Author(s):
Michèle Perny

The 17th-century Flemish artist Frans Snyders was a highly talented artist, and the region's principal exponent of the popular genres of animal painting and hunting still-lifes. He trained under Pieter Breughel the Elder, and subsequently began a lengthy collaboration with Rubens. His work as a painter of pantries, butchers' blocks laden with meat, and arrangements of fruit and vegetables (as here) earned him international fame. This painting is a rare example of a still-life by Snyders featuring a landscape background, painted circa 1640.

Nature's bounty

This luxuriant composition presents an impressive, dazzling accumulation of fruit and vegetables – among much else, we recognize ears of corn and wheat, an artichoke, a marrow, a water-melon, cherries, apples, and a grenadine that has been cut open. Silhouetted against the landscape background we see the branch of a fig tree, laden with fruit, an entire branch of apricots, and two vine branches hanging with bunches of grapes.

In the foreground, in the center of the picture, a squirrel seems to be nibbling a walnut, while in the background, a parrot taps an apricot with his beak. On the far right of the picture, a little monkey seems to be stealing a bunch of grapes. This extraordinary array of fruit and vegetables seems to have been piled on the ground in a disorderly heap, in the open air. Some of the produce seems to have been partly eaten, and small insects are crawling here and there – a cricket, a buttterfly, a caterpillar, or what looks like a ladybird. The composition takes no account of the seasons, mixing ripe fruits and vegetables from throughout the year: medlars, quince, peaches, pears, a plum, an artichoke, a melon… Touches of color are carefully disposed against the dark ground, from yellow to deep reds, and dark greens. The picture's harmonious palette and refined details establish a powerful, eye-catching presence.

A double meaning?

This still-life is a rare among Flemish essays in the genre, in that it does not present a market scene, a kitchen interior, or a table set with an elaborate arranegement of food. In complete contrast, the painting presents instead a brilliant, somewhat ostentatious, almost physically palpable array of agricultural produce, piled on the ground from which it has come, as if waiting to be seized upon and taken away. The picture's celebratory depiction of unbridled natural riches – its sheer, luxuriant beauty – conceals another meaning, however. The presence of so many small insects and defects in this array of produce indicates that it is far from perfect, and subject to the forces of time and decay. The fresh produce has scarcely been harvested before it is burrowed into by grubs, half-eaten, even fought over by three animals – a squirrel, a parrot and a monkey, evidently chosen to reinforce the picture's moral message, as personifications of specific human characteristics.

Reality and symbolism

Still-life paintings such as this challenge the viewer to examine a specific set of ideas and concepts. The painting's opulent profusion of fruit and vegetables of every sort clearly reflects a positive image of economic growth as experienced in the Low Countries during the 17th century. The picture holds up a complacent mirror to the region's prosperity and comfortable standard of living. At the same time, it evokes a quite different set of ideals and symbols – the dangers of wastefulness, the temptation to gluttony, a warning against excess, and the persistent reminder of the ephemeral nature of the material world.

Bibliography

ROBELS Hella : « Frans SNYDERS Stilleben und Tiermaler 1579-1657 », n°136, p. 80, p. 266, MÜNCHEN : Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1989.

Technical description

  • Frans SNYDERS (Anvers, 1579 - Anvers, 1657)

    Fruits et légumes avec un singe, un perroquet et un écureuil

    À dater des années 1620

  • H. : 0,79 m. ; L. : 1,08 m.

  • Saisi chez le baron de Breteuil à Paris pendant la Révolution (1794) ; transféré au musée, 1796

    INV. 1850

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Rubens
    Room 21

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