There is little biographical data known about Justus de Gelder. He was the stepson of Nicoleas Maes, who was clearly a strong influence on him. There is one other known signed work by de Gelder, and only a handful of other works attributed to him.
Our painting, A Boy Eating Mussels, Another Lighting a Pipe, is an exquisite portrait of two young boys, who sit at a small table sharing a meal of mussels. Immediately, a dramatic sense of realism is established through the frontal composition, highly realistic rendering and densely saturated color. Much like a modern day photograph, it is as though we are within the space of the painting, sitting beside the two boys. In the direct foreground, the child looks gleefully out to the viewer, his hat nearly enveloping his head, and in his left hand a mussel shell. He points to the boy beside him, who sits behind the table, carefully lighting a pipe. A red leather hat peaks out brightly from the shadows hiding most of his face; only a thin sliver of light hits the top of his nose, describing his features. Such dramatic use of dark and light contributes to the interior quality of the painting, and sets a mood appropriate for this type of genre scene. The artist establishes a level of informality that emphasizes the nature of a meal with children, infusing the painting with a convincing sense of playful spontaneity, and believability in the figures‚ expressions, gestures, and physical appearance. We feel the distinctness of each color and texture, and react emotionally to the two children, who happily invite us to share in their meal.