Jan Davidsz de Heem was one of the principal still-life painters of the Low Countries. He probably studied painting with the still-life painter Balthasar van der Ast.
During the early 1630s de Heem moved to Antwerp, where he spent most of his life. However between 1669-72, he was back in Utrecht, his hometown, where he established a workshop and had many collaborators and pupils, the most famous being Abraham Mignon. Many years later his studio had only a small number of pupils. The best known are his sons Cornelis and Jan Jansz who were his major collaborators.
At the beginning of his career, De Heem was strongly influenced by two major Dutch painters: Rembrandt and Jan Lievens. Later in his career de Heem was influenced by the monumental kitchen-pieces and still-life paintings of local Antwerp painters such as Frans Snyders.
De Heem painted fruit-pieces, vanitas still-lifes and flower-pieces. He became most famous however for his ornate or sumptuous still-lifes or pronk still lifes, which were of his own invention. In these works, De Heem combined several types of still lifes, which he arranged into one complex composition, such as a flower bouquet with fruit and vanitas objects. Most of these works include fruit or other food as well as precious objects, such as gold and silver work, Chinese porcelain, Venetian glass and exotic shells. Many include texts, which refer to vanitas and Christian symbolism. Proverbs about moderation strongly contrast with sumptuous still-lifes.
From the beginning, de Heem experimented with composition, brushstroke, light and colour. He began with an austere manner but later in Antwerp developed a colourful and florid style of composition. Architectural features and play of light and shadow give his compositions depth. In the work, Still- life with Fruit and Butterflies the trompel’oeil effect is enhanced by the shadow cast by a nail in the stone wall. This picture also presents de Heem’s practice of repeating basic shapes, as seen in the peaches. As for technique, he sometimes painted broadly but also used delicate glazes.
Jan Davidsz de Heem had a strong influence on the development of still-life painting in the Low Countries during the 17th century. His luxurious still-lifes of the 1640s were very popular. He was considered one of the greatest painters by his contemporaries. Today his work is among the most expensive of Dutch paintings.