Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Painting of the Day: A Still Life with Fruit, Lobster, Monkey and Silver Vessels, 1660-70

Still Life with Fruit, Lobster and Silver Vessels
Willem van Aelst, 1660-1670
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This is about as Dutch as a still life can get. The Dutch (and the Flemish), especially in the Seventeenth Century, had a love of canvases of scenes of tables laden with dead animals, overripe fruit and shiny objects. Sometimes these scenes would be given an added dimension by including living figures—usually animals—interwoven within the foodstuffs. Here, dating between 1670 and 1680, we have a still life with fruit, flowers, lobster, dead birds, shells, fine porcelain and silverware on a creased red and blue tablecloth. The scene is adorned by the presence of three living animals--a dog, a parrot and a monkey—and is further heightened in drama by the presence of a rather vulgar grimacing man behind a very Dutch window in the background.

This is most likely the work of Willem van Aelst (1627-1687) who was born in Delft where he trained with his uncle, Evert van Alest (1602-57), a celebrated painter of similar still life works. Willem went to France and Italy where he worked as a court painter, returning to the Netherlands in 1656 where he taught until his death.

Willem had a flare for rendering glassware, precious silverware, fruit and flowers and was celebrated for the symmetry of his compositions. 

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