A Still Life by Dutch Master Clara Peeters, Unseen for a Century, Heads to Auction

The artist’s current auction high is $1.7 million, set at Paris auction house Ferri in 1998.

Clara Peeters, Still Life of Roses, Carnations, Tulips, Narcissi, Irises and other flowers, in a wicker basket. Courtesy Sotheby's.

A richly depicted wicker basket of flowers by Dutch artist Clara Peeters going on offer at Sotheby’s London on December 6 will, if it meets its high estimate, become one of her priciest paintings at auction.

One of few paintings she created on copper, according to Sotheby’s, and likely dating to about 1615, the painting bears an estimate of £500,000 to £700,000 (about $631,000–$883,000). Bearing the title Still life of roses, carnations, tulips, narcissi, irises, love-in-a-mist, larkspur, and other flowers, in a wicker basket, with a butterfly and a cricket, it will appear in the house’s Old Master and 19th-Century Paintings evening sale

“There are only about 40 known works by her hand, many of which are in private collections and museums, so to have one come to the market is very exciting, especially one in such impeccable condition,” said Elisabeth Lobkowicz, vice president and old master specialist at Sotheby’s New York, in a phone interview.

The painting has been in a private collection in Belgium since 1928. “It’s only recently been rediscovered, so it’s never been published in the literature,” added Lobkowicz. “It has all the hallmarks of her great works. It’s meticulous, it’s vibrant, it’s luminous, it’s captivating. What draws me to it the most is that it’s on a very small scale, but it has immense visual impact. It’s a kaleidoscope of color and detail, expertly rendered.”

The artist’s current auction high is $1.7 million, set at Paris auction house Ferri in 1998 for Still Life with Pitcher and Cheese Plate, far exceeding its high estimate of about $337,000. Just 43 works by Peeters or attributed to her have come to auction since 1989, according to the Artnet Price Database. Her latest sale price, and second-highest, was $1.5 million, for Roses, lilies, an iris and other flowers in an earthenware vase, with a pot of carnations and a butterfly on a ledge, at Christie’s New York in June 2022, against a low estimate of $1.2 million.

If the current estimate is realized, it would rank the painting alongside her third-priciest, Still life with pears, an apple, an apricot, almonds and walnuts on a Tazza with grapes, a walnut, an apricot, cherries and almonds on a stone ledge (c. 1611), which fetched about $882,000 at Sotheby’s London in 2007. 

The painting comes to auction at a time when museums and collectors have been professing a desire to right an imbalance, collecting and displaying more works by women artists, even if, according to the 2022 Burns-Halperin Report, they often fell short of their vaunted ambitions.

Little is certain about the artist’s biography. Peeters may have been born Clara Lamberts in Mechelen in 1587 and married the Antwerp painter Hendrick Peeters in 1605; she was almost certainly active in that city, said Sotheby’s, though works of hers are recorded in inventories as distant—and distinguished—as that of the Royal Collection in Madrid. 

The work bears close comparison with other Peeters still lifes, the auction house pointed out. The same wicker basket, for example, appears in a still life in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Comparable flowers appear in a still life that hangs at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unique to this painting, said Sotheby’s, is the prominent presence of a butterfly with outstretched wings.


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