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Oil painting - Still Life with Fruit, Lobster and Silver Vessels
  • Still Life with Fruit, Lobster and Silver Vessels
    Aelst, Willem van, born 1627
  • Enlarge image

Still Life with Fruit, Lobster and Silver Vessels

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Amsterdam (possibly, painted)

  • Date:

    1660-1670 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Aelst, Willem van, born 1627 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on oak panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John M. Parsons

  • Museum number:

    521-1870

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Willem van Aelst (1627-1687) was born in Delft where he trained with his uncle, a still-life painter, Evert van Alest (1602-57). He travelled for several years in France and in Italy where he was employed as a court painter. He returned to the Netherlands in 1656 and settled in Amsterdam shortly after, where he died in 1687. His pupils included Maria van Oosterwijck in Delft and Rachel Ruysch in Amsterdam.

This painting is a fine example of Willem van Aelst’s ornate still-lifes with fine glassware, precious silverware, fruit and flowers, a genre that he improved during his stay in Florence where he met Dutch nature painters known for their highly finished cabinet pictures. Apart from still-lifes paintings, Van Aelst was famous for his asymmetrically arranged bouquet and game pictures. He is the only important still-life painter who links Willem Kalf's generation with the next one.

Physical description

Still-life with fruit, flowers, lobster, dead birds, shells, fine porcelain and silverware on a creased red and blue tablecloth with three animals alive (a dog, a parrot and a monkey) and a grimacing man behind a window in the background.

Place of Origin

Amsterdam (possibly, painted)

Date

1660-1670 (painted)

Artist/maker

Aelst, Willem van, born 1627 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on oak panel

Dimensions

Height: 123 cm approx., Width: 91.5 cm approx.

Object history note

Bequeathed by John M. Parsons, 1870.
John Meeson Parsons (1798-1870), art collector, was born in Newport, Shropshire. He later settled in London, and became a member of the stock exchange. His interest in railways led to his election as an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1839, and he was director or chairman of two railway companies between 1843 and 1848. Much of his time however was spent collecting pictures and works of art. In his will he offered his collection of mostly German and Dutch schools to the National Gallery (which selected only three works) and to the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington, later the Victoria and Albert Museum. The South Kensington Museum acquired ninety-two oil paintings and forty-seven watercolours. A number of engravings were also left to the British Museum.

Historical significance: This painting shows an arrangement of fruits, flowers, dead birds, lobster, fine porcelain, shells and silverwares on a table with three animals alive (a dog, a parrot and a monkey). The central composition of this picture is a quite good example of Van Aelst's detailed, smooth style and taste for displaying rich and rare items.
His luxurious compositions betray the influence of the great still-life painter from Rotterdam Willem Kalf (1619-1693). His strongest influence was on flowers pieces with his distinctive contribution to break the symmetrical compositional trend that had been conventional hitherto and he had a prolific output of game pictures, especially between 1652 and 1681.
There is a striking contrast between the smoothness of the still life's elements on the table and the rather thick impasto of the three animals alive. The depiction of these animals shares with the grimacing man behind the window, revealed by a 1960 cleaning, a similar loose brushwork. The compositional idea is also very different from the rest of Willem van Aelst's production. He usually depicted his still-lifes against a receding neutral dark background and employed a more restrained however shimmering range of colours.
These differences lead to the conclusion that a great part of the final composition results from a later hand, which may have also heavily retouched the table cloth. Typical of his work however is the display of a wide range of textures and matter. Should Willem van Aelst be the primary author of this picture, it appears now as a strange combination of subject matter, styles and quality.
Willem van Aelst was famous for his ability to render matter and textures and to display ornate and luxury still-lifes reminiscent in Willem Kalf's production. This is particularly patent in the inclined plate, which looks like a quotation of Kalf's compositional trend and in the representation of the rich carved goblet surmounted by a delicate silver flower in the back of the composition, which is a recurrent item of Kalf's paintings. His compositions were however relatively sober and simple.

Historical context note

Still-life reached the height of its popularity in Western Europe, especially in the Netherlands during the 17th century even though still-life subjects already existed in pre-Classical, Classical and Renaissance art. The term conventionally refers to the type of work in which an arrangement of diverse inanimate objects including fruits and shellfishes, vessels and artefacts are depicted. Dutch painters played a major role in its development, inventing many distinctive variations on the theme over the course of the century. The greatest names are the Haarlem painters such as Pieter Claesz. (1597/98-1661) and Willem Claesz. Heda (1593/94-1680/82) specialized in depicting monochrome still-life with neutral tones whereas Willem Kalf from Rotterdam concentrated his attention on the representation of luxury goods in a limited however contrasted palette. Jan Davidsz. de Heem had a deep influence on the development of Netherlandish paintings by combining the colourful Flemish style with the relatively more sober and intimate traditional Dutch still-lifes. Still-life paintings include vanitas or memento mori pictures that bear a moral meaning, i.e. reminding pictures of the human mortality and invitation to a meditation upon the passage of time. By the late 17th century, artists were refining their technique to ever-greater virtuosity, finding markets for their skills throughout Europe. These pieces were still popular in the 18th century, especially the fruit and flowers ones.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Still Life with Fruit, Lobster and Silver Vessels', attributed to Willem van Aelst, 1660-1670

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 2, no. 3.
I. Bergström, Dutch still-life painting in the 17th century, 1956, pp. 220-24.
Christopher Wright, Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century: Images of a Golden Age in British Collections, London, 1989, p. 163.

Materials

Oil paint; Oak

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Porcelain; Monkey; Birds; Fruit; Shell; Parrot; Still life; Silverware; Flowers; Lobster; Dog

Categories

Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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