Luis Meléndez was the greatest Spanish still-life painter of his time. As the most gifted student admitted to the newly founded Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1745, he could have anticipated a prosperous career at the Spanish court. Such expectations were dashed, however, when he was expelled from the Academy some years later because his father, honorary professor of painting, disputed with its directors. Trained in portraiture and employed as a miniaturist, Meléndez eventually found his métier as a painter of still life.
In this composition, Meléndez scrupulously renders the textures and forms of the closely grouped fruit and containers, highlighting the glazed curve of a honey jar of Manises pottery, one of his favorite motifs. A strong light enhances the sharper geometry of the sweet boxes, one bearing the artist’s monogram, and throws a shadow from the honey jar across the receding boxes at the right.
In 1772, claiming it was his intention to depict “every variety of comestible which the Spanish clime produces,” Meléndez appealed to the scientific interests of the prince and princess of Asturias (the future King Charles IV and his wife) and asked for their support for the project. They agreed, but terminated the commission in 1776 due to a dispute over payment. By that time, Meléndez had delivered forty-four pictures to the royal couple, and these later decorated the prince’s country house at El Escorial. Despite his exceptional gifts, Meléndez died a pauper.
Private collection, Switzerland;
(Harari & Johns Ltd., London);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1985.