Jean Riechers collection: reviving the still life

On 13 June 2019, by Anne Foster

Starting in the 1950s, impassioned scholars Yvonne and Jean Riechers assembled a collection of Old Master paintings, seeking out little-known or forgotten artists, and giving fresh glory to a long-discredited genre.

François Garnier (ca. 1600 - between 1658-1672), Panier de cerises et branche d'abricots sur un entablement, oil on oak panel, 36 x 47 cm.
Estimate: €80,000/100,000

Members of a family of lacemaking industrialists, Jean Riechers (1898-1974) and his wife Yvonne (1905-1986) directed a world-famous company established in Calais, which from its creation in the 19th century supplied the international luxury ready-to-wear and haute couture sector. The husband and wife had another passion: Old Master paintings.
In 1934, an exhibition entitled "Les Peintres de la réalité" at the Orangerie, Paris, brought the French still life into line with modern taste. Some twenty years later, Charles Sterling published a major book on Still Life Painting from Antiquity to the Present (1952). At the end of the Second World War, Yvonne and Jean Riechers began to assemble "one of the most important and original art collections in France," according to the expert Stéphane Pinta. "They had a penchant for still lifes from the first half of the 17th century by Flemish, French and various German artists." The collection contained still lifes by Protestant Paris painters in particular. The couple bought from the dealer Curt Benedict and the François Heim, Marcus and Pardo galleries. Jean Riechers carried on a correspondence with art historian Charles Sterling and developed a special connection with the curators at the Louvre. This close relationship led the couple to donate a Calvary by David Téniers the Elder to the museum in 1972, and a still life by Juan de Espinosa in 1973. Their children continued this generous impulse, enriching the Louvre with a group of still lifes by Isaac Soreau, Jacques Linard and Sébastien Stoskopff through a donation in lieu of estate tax in 1981-1982.
 

Sébastien Stoskopff (1597-1657), Nature morte à la volaille lardée, salière, miche de pain et verre de vin, oil on canvas, 52.5 x 63 cm.Estimate: €40,
Sébastien Stoskopff (1597-1657), Nature morte à la volaille lardée, salière, miche de pain et verre de vin, oil on canvas, 52.5 x 63 cm.
Estimate: €40,000/60,000

Love of life and vanitas
Flemish and Dutch still-life painters followed two movements: one connected with the five senses, with variations on "laden tables" mingling luxury objects, fruits and flowers, both domestic and exotic; the other, with a deliberately simpler staging, evoking the swift passing of time and the futility of attachment to the things of this world. The Riechers included both movements in their collection. The former included an iconic work by Osias Beert the Elder [CP1] and one by a major figure among the Flemish painters who gathered in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in Paris: Jean-Michel Picart. Considered a pioneer in still-life painting as an independent genre, Osias Beert was admitted to the Guild of Saint Luke in 1602. With his impeccable glaze technique, he achieved transparencies giving the illusion of reality, and his compositions were vibrant with a wealth of colours. In Plat d'artichauts, coupe de framboises, timbale de mûres et coupe de cerises (€80,000/120,000), he included a silver tripod saltcellar and dishes in Chinese porcelain also found in numerous other works. In the centre we see an open artichoke: an aphrodisiac, according to 16th-century treatises on botany. The Flemish artist Daniel Soreau, established in Germany (whose studio was taken over at his death by Stoskopff), promoted the genre in Eastern Europe. His son Isaac spent part of his career in Antwerp before moving to Frankfurt. Exponents of Stillleben, the Strasbourg artists Sébastien Stoskopff and Georg Flegel favoured a more austere style, dwelling on the moral aspect. Both are represented in the Riechers collection. There is an admirable work by Stoskopff, Nature morte à la volaille lardée… (€40,000/60,000) dating from his Paris period, ca. 1635, with numerous symbols of Christ: a glass of red wine, bread, a knife, a saltcellar and a bitter orange, which was served with meat at that time. Meanwhile Flegel chose a frugal herring, apple and onion, contrasting them with the richness of the silverware pokal (€30,000/40,000). Another painting by Flegel, which once belonged to the Riechers, Nature morte au flacon de vin, à la miche de pain et aux petites poissons (1637), was bought by the Louvre in 1981.
 

Georg Flegel (1566-1638), Nature morte au hareng et pokal, oil on panel, 21.6 x 27.5 cm.Estimate: €30,000/40,000
Georg Flegel (1566-1638), Nature morte au hareng et pokal, oil on panel, 21.6 x 27.5 cm.
Estimate: €30,000/40,000

Flemish and French Protestant artists were influential members of the Saint-Germain fair in Paris, the first of the year, which was held between February and Easter until 1789. Here luxury items were sold, including paintings from Flanders. A covered market could accommodate up to three hundred and forty merchants' booths. At that time, Jean-Michel Picart, an artist and dealer, played a major role in the introduction of still lifes, as artists from the North on their way to Italy would deposit or create numerous paintings during their stay. For his part, painter and picture dealer François Garnier bought a booth in Rue Mercière, in 1627. Panier de cerises et branche d'abricots (€80,000/100,000) is characteristic of his clean-lined style, which influenced Chardin. Belonging to the same genre, various bouquets of flowers are given greater worth and are more charming to the eye, although they too convey a moral lesson with their insects and faded blooms. While there are few of them in the collection, one of them, by Jan Van den Hecke I, deserves a closer look (€15,000/20,000). Its rendering is freer, and the composition is remarkable: the corner of the stone entablature creates a diagonal which slightly throws the arrangement of flowers off centre – these being contained in a wickerwork basket, like the fruits of multiple still lifes...
 

Osias Beert the Elder (c.1580-1624) and his studio, Plat d’artichauts, coupe de framboises, timbale de mûres et coupe de cerises, oil on oak panel, 53
Osias Beert the Elder (c.1580-1624) and his studio, Plat d’artichauts, coupe de framboises, timbale de mûres et coupe de cerises, oil on oak panel, 53.4 x 84.4 cm (detail).
Estimate: €80,000/120,000

Overview (Pre-sale)

Isaak Soreau, simplicity and abundance

His father’s student, Isaak Soreau completed his training as a still-life painter first with Stoskopff, then with Van Hulsdonck in Antwerp. This work from the former Riechers collection features two of the genre’s characteristics: simplicity and abundance.

The top of the composition stands out against a plain, dark background brushed with broad strokes. Bunches of grapes, some apricots and plums are in a wicker basket. Nuts, a cherry and a chili pepper, which adds an exotic touch, are tossed together as if in a well-arranged heap on the simple top of the wooden table. The redcurrants have just been picked; dewdrops still quiver on their leaves. Soreau gathered the fragile fruits, grown in greenhouses or imported, leaving those of the garden on the entablature. The layout is emblematic of his work, still archaic in its meticulous execution, smooth workmanship and simple, static composition. Of Flemish origin, his family settled in Frankfurt, Germany to join the supporters of the Reformation. His father, Daniel, worked first for the family wool business, then as a painter and architect. Isaak was trained in the paternal workshop, taken over upon Daniel’s death in 1619 by Sébastien Stoskopff, who had just completed his apprenticeship. In 1626, Isaak went to Antwerp, where he was probably Jacob Van Hulsdonck's (1582-1647) student. He shows exceptional technique and rare acuity. From one work to another, repeating the same composition, he adds details or leaves out certain fruits to differentiate them. The painting at the Petit Palais in Paris, for example, offers a more horizontal layout, where a basket filled with bunches of grapes is surrounded by a shallow bowl made of blue-white Chinese porcelain and a tin dish. Soreau was influenced not only by Stoskopff’s way of highlighting the natural beauty of objects and fruit, but also by the opulence of his teacher Van Hulsdonck’s Flemish still lifes. Unrecognised by art historians until the mid-20th century, Soreau’s work is now sought after by art lovers such as Yvonne and Jean Riechers, who assembled a still-life collection favouring lesser-known specialists in the genre. His paintings are in the best public collections, particularly in Germany, Munich and Hamburg.

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