Clara Peeters was a still life painter of the Flemish Baroque. Everything we know about her came from her paintings, so the biographical information we have is very limited. For example, her place of birth is not documented, there is no information of a possible wedding and we don’t know who trained her.
There are reasons to think that she based her career in Antwerp. There’s a painting in a collection in Amsterdam that is described in a document from 1635 as “a sugar banquet painted in 1608 by a woman Clear Pieters from Antwerp”. Also, it’s known that at least six of the supports that she used for her paintings bear marks from the same city. Panel and supports from Antwerp were not often used in other cities. So, it’s more likely that she was practising locally. Six of her known paintings include the same ornate silver knife that has inscribed her name. In (at least) three of them is visible on the blade a silver mark from Antwerp.
By that time Antwerp was one of the most important commercial centres and one of the leaders in production and exportation of paintings in Europe.
Today there are 39 known paintings that bear the signature of Clara Peeters or an inscription of her name and also a few unsigned paintings can be attributed to her. Some of her paintings must have been lost.
Her earliest paintings are dated from 1607 and 1608, it’s known that eleven of her paintings bear dates. Almost all of her paintings are still lifes. Her dedication to this genre was a result of the limitations imposed by contemporary culture on women artists. Her last work documented in the 17th century is a painting of birds recorded in a collection in Haarlem in 1685. In the 18th century her works appear in eight inventories in Bonn, Brussels, Hannover, Hamburg, London and Paris, it’s curious that not a single painting by her is recorded in Antwerp in both centuries. It indicates that she probably had cast a wide social and geographical net. She may have exported her works through art dealers what explains the wide distribution of her work.
When Clara Peeters started working in the first decade of the 17th century only a few of this type of paintings were included in collections of the Southern and Northern Netherlands. However, the taste for this genre would grow in the following decades.
There are early documents that suggest that she had some name recognition in the Northern Netherlands.
At that time, knives were carried by guests when they’re invited to dine at someone else’s place. This type of knife was also used as wedding gifts. The knife we can see in her paintings (in which there is her name engraved) could be a souvenir of her own wedding, which is not documented.
Clara Peeters included self-portraits in some of her paintings, at least eight. Her self-portraits are in the surfaces of jars and glasses. But to see them its needed a very careful look.
With the self-portraits Peeters is proclaiming her proud of being woman and painter. Also, it suggests that she knew other works with reflected images like Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait and Self-portrait in a convex mirror by Parmigianino.
- She was the first woman artist to have a solo exhibition at Museo del Prado (Madrid – Spain), called The Art of Clara Peeters.
- Museo del Prado – Clara Peeters (biography)
- Museo del Prado – The Art of Clara Peeters (the exhibition)
- El Cultural – Quién era Clara Peeters? (in Spanish)
- El País – Clara Peeters, la pintora que inventó el selfie (in Spanish)
- Wikimedia Commons