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Title Still Life with Fruit, Lobster and Silver Vessels
Collection Victoria and Albert Museum
Artist Attributed to Aelst, Willem van (Dutch still life painter, 1627-after 1687),
Date Earliest possibly about 1660
Date Latest possibly about 1670
Description 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. Willem van Aelst 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. Apart from still-life paintings, Van Aelst was famous for his asymmetrically arranged bouquet and game pictures.
Current Accession Number 521-1870
Subject still life (fruit, flower, bird, lobster, porcelain, shell, silverware); animal (bird, lobster, dog, parrot, monkey).
Measurements 123 x 91.5 cm (estimate)
Material oil on panel (hardwood {oak})
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by John M. Parsons 1870.
Publications Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London, 1973, p. 2, no. 3; I. Bergström, Dutch still-life painting in the 17th century, 1956, pp. 220-24; Wright, C., Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century: Images of a Golden Age in British Collections, London, 1989, p. 163.

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 elements on the table and the rather thick impasto of the three live animals. 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.

Rights Owner © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Author Ana Debenedetti



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