Reality's Bite

Willem Heda, Still Life with a Roemer and Watch, 1629 (courtesy of the Royal Pic
Willem Heda, Dutch, ca. 1596–1680, Still Life with a Roemer and Watch, 1629, oil on panel, 18 1/8 x 27 1/4 inches, courtesy Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, Acquired in 1895 (inv. no. 596)

Cinqué Hicks reviews the exhibition Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis at the High Museum, Atlanta, on view through September 29, 2013.

Hicks writes that " these Golden Age painters emerging a century or two later, unlocked the key to realistically rendering the natural world. Willem Heda’s Still Life with a Roemer and Watch (1629) is nearly a miracle. The glimmers of light against a pewter dish, a lemon rind, and a glass half full of water feel not just transcendently beautiful, but also correct in the most mundane sense of the word. You can feel confident that, yes, that’s what things really look like." He continues: "If the Renaissance theorists were right, then we should believe that these kinds of paintings were in some sense inevitable, that sooner or later artists would get the visible world right and a Dutch still life would be the result. But that story overlooks what may be most intriguing about the work: that painting from the Dutch Golden Age is a fiction that aims not to be accurate, but to be convincing. It’s novelistic, not documentary. The realism of the Dutch masters isn’t just the result of a natural evolution but an aesthetic choice that helped a new nation create a story about itself and its place in history."