This composition combines Rousseau's admiration for eighteenth-century still life painting with an emphasis on contemporary, everyday detail, such as the copy of the newspaper Le Figaro at left and the letter at center, addressed to the artist at his home in Acquigny in northern France. The succulent ham is garnished with a sprig of bay leaves. Still lifes such as this brought Rousseau great success in fashionable French circles; the present picture may have been exhibited at the Salon of 1877 as Le Déjeuner (The Lunch).
Inscription: Signed and inscribed: (on envelope) Monsieur Ph. Rousseau. / à Acquigny / Eure; (on newspaper) [FI]GARO
Pearson, Paris (in 1927; his sale, Paul Cassirer, Berlin, October 18, 1927, no. 59, apparently bought in for 2,550 marks); private collection, Paris (until 1970; sold in March to Watteau); [André Watteau, Paris, 1970; sold in May to Humann]; Christian Humann, Paris (1970–d. 1981; his estate, 1981–82, sold to Brame and Lorenceau); [Brame and Lorenceau, Paris, 1982; sold to MMA]
Paris. Salon. May 1–?, 1877, no. 1852 (as "Le déjeuner", lent by M. de la Penha, possibly this picture).
Amsterdam. Van Gogh Museum. "Philippe Rousseau, 1816–1887," September 10–November 14, 1993, no. 22 (as "Still life with ham").
Albert Mérat. Le Petit Salon 1877. Paris, 1877, p. 22 [possibly this picture].
"La XIe biennale internationale des antiquaires at the Grand Palais, Paris." Burlington Magazine 124 (September 1982), ill. p. v.
Charles S. Moffett inManet, 1832–1883. Ed. Françoise Cachin and Charles S. Moffett. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1983, pp. 212, 217, ill. p. 213 [French ed., Paris, 1983], dates it about 1870 [the French catalogue incorrectly dates it about 1850].
Ronald de Leeuw. Philippe Rousseau, 1816–1887. Exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum. Amsterdam, 1993, pp. 55, 63, 69 no. 22, fig. 61 (color), cites Rousseau's signature within the address of the letter as an example of his idiosyncratic placement of signatures in his still lifes; remarks that this purchase was part of the international recurrence of interest in Rousseau.
Neil Cox. In the Presence of Things – Four Centuries of Still Life Painting, Part 2: 19th–20th Centuries (1840–1955). Exh. cat., Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Lisbon, 2011, p. 42.
There is a pastel still life by Philippe Rousseau in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, that includes the same silver cup depicted in this work (see Van Gogh Museum Acquisitions, 1986–1991, Amsterdam, 1991).