Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit

Sir Nathaniel Baconc.1620-5

Tate Britain

Tate Britain

Sir Nathaniel Bacon did not paint professionally, although he was a skilled amateur artist. Very few works attributed to him survive, so the appearance of this work on the art market presented the Collection with a rare opportunity for acquisition. Furthermore, the subject matter, a cookmaid surrounded with lavish produce, more usually associated with Dutch and Flemish art, is highly unusual in England for the period and associated only with Bacon. Every item depicted is known to have been growing in England: Bacon himself grew melons on his Suffolk estate.

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  • Title: Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit
  • Creator: Sir Nathaniel Bacon
  • Date: c.1620-5
  • Provenance: Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1995
  • Physical Dimensions: 1510 x 2475 mm
  • Original Title: Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit
  • Additional Viewing Notes: 'Cookmaid' and market scenes, popular in the seventeenth century, evolved in the Low Countries from a genre practised by Pieter Aertsen (c.1533-c.1573) and his pupil Joachim Beuckalaer, which combined contemporary kitchen scenes with a New Testament episode beyond. Bacon could have seen such works on a visit he made to the Low Countries in 1613. An inventory of 1659 connected to the will of the artist's wife lists 'Ten Great peeces in Wainscote of fish and fowle &c done by S:r Nath: Bacon' (quoted in Gervase Jackson-Stops, ed., The Treasure Houses of Britain, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC 1985, p.140). Two other 'Cookmaid' pictures are known to exist: Cookmaid with Still Life of Game and Cookmaid with Still Life of Birds, both in the possession of the artist's descendants. The Tate's work is possibly part of this group. Such groups were often intended to depict the four seasons or the twelve months of the year. In the case of this piece, however, although every item represented in the painting was grown in England at the time, not all would have been in season simultaneously. Bacon, according to a letter dated 19 June [1626], was growing melons at his estate in East Anglia, and he was known to have a keen interest in horticulture. The subject would most likely have had erotic connotations. The abundance of ripe melons surrounding the cookmaid echo her voluptuous cleavage. Further reading: Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1995, p.220, reproduced p.221 in colour Terry Riggs
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Tate
  • Medium: Oil paint on canvas