Christie's to Present Masterworks from the Estate of Lila and Herman Shickman, Highlighted by Meléndez's Still life Painting

Inanimate objects like fruits and vegetables are often employed as “models” for still life paintings, not only because of the fact that they can stay still, but also because of the palette of vibrant colours they offer. Christie’s upcoming sale Masterworks from the Estate of Lila and Herman Shickman features a still life painting of artichokes and tomatoes from the artist Luis Meléndez. While the painting is in the auction world for success, it was created after the artists' downfall caused by his father. 

Luis Meléndez's Artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape

This still life star lot of the sale, named Artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape, is estimated at US$2m - 4m. This painting is one of only a dozen large-scale still lifes that are situated in landscape settings by Luis Meléndez, one of the greatest and most original still life painters of 18th-century Europe.

Details of Artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape

Meléndez was born in Naples into a family of painters and had his father as his first teacher at a young age. His father taught him to produce miniature royal portraits in jewels and bracelets that were sent as gifts to envoys and ambassadors. He entered the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid in 1745, the year after it was founded, and was quickly judged first among its students. Unfortunately, due to the rash actions of Meléndez’s father, they lost the support of his colleagues at the Academy in a needless dispute in 1748, resulting in the expulsion of both father and son, derailing Meléndez’s future.

Details of Artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape

Afterwards, Luis travelled to both Rome and his birthplace, Naples, at his own expense. He remained in Italy for four years, surviving on a few commissions for Charles VI of Naples, future Charles III of Spain. He then returned to Spain but found it difficult finding work. 

Luis Meléndez's Still life with watermelons and apples in a landscape was one of the paintings delivered to the Asturias

In 1760, Meléndez petitioned the new king to appoint him court painter. Although Charles III was sympathetic towards Melendez, it was only through the Royal Academy that he funneled patronage and there was no way to ask for forgiveness from the Academy. So, Meléndez's petition failed. He petitioned again in 1772 but once more without success. 

Luis Melendez's Still life with cantaloupe, figs, and apples, and wineskin in a landscape, 1771

In the final twenty years of his life, he found a path to make a living without the support of the Academy. From 1759 to 1772, under the commission of the Prince of Asturias, Meléndez produced 44 still lifes for the prince's private museum, 39 of which are currently in the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Luis Melendez's Still life with pomegranates, apples, azaroles, and grapes in a landscape was one of the paintings delivered to the Asturias

The mystery of Artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape lies in the question of whether it was intended for the Prince of Asturias. In fact, this masterpiece was seldom considered to be one of the paintings delivered to the Asturias. Yet, like the other pictures grouped around this series, it is generally dated to the early 1770s, as its size, format, landscape setting and stylistic handling are consistent with the series. One recent assumption suggests that the painting was indeed made under the commision of the Prince, but due to the falling-out with the Academy, it never made its way from Meléndez's studio to the Asturias royal collection.

Artichokes, pears, peas and tomatoes were Spanish products

The painting also shares a similar landscape setting to those in the series. It features artichokes- a product which was grown in the Spanish-ruled regions of southern Italy as well as on the Iberian peninsula, surrounded by examples of other native Spanish produce, including pears, peas and tomatoes. The details of the artwork fit Meléndez's own description of what he was working on for the Prince as well.

Please stay tuned for our interview with Cecille Xichu Wang, Old Masters Specialist, as she is going to introduce another highlight from the sale – Juan van der Hamen y León's painting of Peaches, pears, plums, peas and cherries in wicker baskets.

Luis Meléndez (Naples 1716-1780 Madrid). Artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape.

Size: 62.3 x 82.6 cm


  • Edward Sackville-West (1901-1965), 5th Baron Sackville, Knole, Kent; Sotheby's, London, 16 March 1966, lot 71, where acquired by the following with Hallsborough Gallery, London.
  • Acquired by Herman Shickman, by 1970.

Estimate: US$2,000,000 - US$4,000,000

Auction details
Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Masterworks from the Estate of Lila and Herman Shickman
Sale date: 1 May 2019