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Work Two Monkeys Stealing Fruit from a Basket

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

Two Monkeys Stealing Fruit from a Basket

© 2008 RMN / Thierry Ollivier

Flemish painting

Collange Adeline

For more thieving monkeys, cf. M.I. 981 (in the same room), INV. 1850 and M.I. 982 (in Room 21). A true vanitas painting: animal greed, perishable fruit, broken porcelain (one of the monkeys has overturned a metal dish). The monkey motif was a recurrent one in Snyders's work; it was appreciated by the public, and was a traditional symbol of lechery, excess, and greed.

The invention of animal genre painting

Two capuchin monkeys (so-called because the hair on their heads resembles a black skullcap) are pillaging a basket of fruit, toppling two porcelain dishes in the process. Frans Snyders painted these monkey-thieves with naturalism, neither idealizing nor caricaturing them. Their little hands grab greedily at fruit that is too big for them, disturbing the orderly arrangement in the basket. One can easily imagine the shrill cries that fill the room, adding to the din of broken crockery. Other painters had already represented animals in their paintings but given them a secondary role, subordinate to human activity. Snyders was the first to concentrate exclusively on incidents featuring animals in familiar places, thereby inventing a genre painting in which animals such as dogs, cats, and monkeys were the sole protagonists. The kitchen and pantry were the privileged places for these little everyday dramas.

A vanitas painting

The "thieving monkey" theme was greatly appreciated by the public, and was used time and again by the painter. The monkey (sometimes linked to the image of the devil) had symbolized the sinner since the Middle Ages - a greedy, lecherous creature, driven by his senses only. During the sixteenth and (especially) seventeenth centuries it came to incarnate stupidity (reflected by popular expressions such as "monkeying about"). These two little monkeys' attitude toward the food indicates their barbarism - they are guided by animal instinct and desire. This work is a true vanitas painting: a splendid still life with peaches, apples, strawberries, grapes, plums, and half-eaten melon, which are delightfully appetizing yet bound to perish. So this little scene, which no doubt takes place in a kitchen, is also a lesson illustrating the risks of poor household management based on the satisfaction of the senses alone.

A powerful decorative art

Snyders, who worked with Rubens in the latter's very productive workshop, dominated the still-life genre throughout the first half of the seventeenth century. His decorative and powerful baroque art influenced not only his contemporaries, but also the eighteenth-century French school with famous painters such as Jean-Baptiste Oudry and François Desportes. Chardin's early masterpiece, The Ray, recalls his pictorial strength, mingled with keen observation of the animal world and a certain humor.


Koslow Susan, Frans Snyders peintre animalier et de natures mortes 1579 - 1657, Anvers, Fonds Mercator, 1995.

Technical description

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

    Two Monkeys Stealing Fruit from a Basket

  • H. 0.84 m; W. 1.19 m

  • Bequest of baron Chevreau de Christiani, 1929 , 1929

    R.F. 3046

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Room 855

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