Today’s work of art is by the Dutch artist Joseph de Bray, who’s more famous as the son of Salomon de Bray, also a painter, and for essentially just one work of art, his In Praise of Herring, which is also known as Eulogy to a Herring and Still-Life in Praise of the Pickled Herring. It was completed in 1656.
The painting also includes a poem, also titled In Praise of Herring by Jacob Westerbaen, who was de Bray’s brother-in-law. Unfortunately, I was also unable to find the full text of the poem, either. Say what you will about pickled herring — and I’m certainly not a fan — but if you’re going to pair it with a beverage, you can bet it’s going to be beer.
The Web Gallery of Art has this to say about the artist and his painting:
Fish still-lifes developed as a category during the seventeenth century — not an astonishing phenomenon when we recall that fishing, particularly for herring and cod, was a mainstay of the Dutch economy. A notable exponent of the type is Abraham van Beyeren. As the Dutch love for flowers, their love for seafood is proverbial. The Haarlemer Joseph de Bray, son of Salomon and brother of Jan, celebrated this taste in his picture, dated 1656, dedicated to the apotheosis of the pickled herring.
Resting behind the large, succulent herring and other objects in the painting’s foreground, there is an elaborate tablet, draped with a festoon of herrings and requisite onions, inscribed with a poem by the Remonstrant preacher and poet Jacob Westerbaen: ‘In praise of the Pickled Herring’ published in 1633. After telling of the herring’s delight to the eye, palette, and its other qualities, Westerbaen adds that consumption of it ‘Will make you apt to piss/And you will not fail/(With pardon) to shit/And ceaselessly fart…’ – proof, if it is needed, that plain profane messages are as likely embodied in Dutch paintings as spiritual ones. The painting was evidently a success. In the following year he painted another, somewhat larger still-life, now in Aachen, dedicated to the same subject. It includes the text of Westerbaen’s verse dedicated to the pickled herring, and a brief passage from his poem ‘Cupido’ on the page of an open folio accompanied by an ample display of herrings and onions.
And another source said the following:
Joseph de Bray came from a family of Haarlem painters which included the highly respected Salomon de Bray (his father) and Jan de Bray (his brother). Joseph is known for this curious still life in which the different elements — the jug, the glass of beer, the fish, the bread, the butter and the onions — are organized in a U-shape. In the centre of the composition is a manuscript where one can read a poem by Doctor Jakob Westerbaen, singing the praises of a salted and smoked herring!
To learn more about Joseph de Bray, sadly, there’s not much. There isn’t even a Wikipedia page in English for him, it instead forwards to his father’s page where Joseph is mentioned. There is, however, a short German page for him, and that translates as follows:
Son of the painter Salomon de Bray and brother of Dirck, Jacob and Jan de Bray. He was certainly younger than his brother, Jan, and older than his brother Dirck. Probably trained by his father, he specialized mainly on still life. In 1664, he died of the plague.
The earliest known evidence of his artistry is a small drawing of an Arcadian landscape dated 14th February 1650, classified because of the uncertain lines as an early work. There are only a handful of works that can be ascribed with certainty. The most famous depiction is “Still Life with a poem on the pickled herring” that has survived in several handwritten copies. Recently appeared on the international art market is another picture which is tentatively attributed to him. Besides the few oil paintings, there are some drawings, which are also brought in touch with him.
There’s not much else, beyond this article, Painting Family: The De Brays, about his family.