22 in. x 35 in. (55.88 cm x 88.9 cm)
Henry Melville Fuller Fund,
This still-life painting by Dutch artist Balthasar van der Ast presents apples, plums, apricots, and grapes in a porcelain dish resting on a stone ledge. The dish is surrounded by carnations, an apricot branch, shells (one a West Indian top-shell, the other a variety called bishop’s miter), a snail, and a quince. The fine brushwork on the smooth surface of the panel creates minute details, such as imperfections in the stone and insects—a damselfly, butterfly, and flies—resting on the fruit and flowers. Other finely rendered elements include the highlights on the grapes that give them a smooth plumpness and the white dots of paint along the leaves that suggest a prickly edge. These details create a variety of textures and make the objects appear to have been closely studied from life.
Context and Analysis
Born in Middelburg in the Netherlands in 1593 or 1594, Van der Ast came from a family of artists. He was trained by his brother-in-law Ambrosius Bosschaert I, an innovative still-life painter known for his meticulous flower scenes. The works of Bosschaert and Van der Ast contributed to the growing popularity of Dutch still-life painting in the 1600s. Paintings like the present work provided a rich focus for contemplation, as they invited viewers to meditate upon the magnificence of nature. Such meditation had Christian overtones at this time in the Netherlands. Ephemeral moments captured in Van der Ast’s painting, such as droplets of water on the leaves and blemishes in the fruit, evoked the brevity of life. Simultaneously, the objects depicted, particularly the shells and Chinese porcelain dish, appeared exotic and costly to Van der Ast’s contemporaries. These items recall the success of Dutch overseas exploration and trade in this period, as merchant travelers returned home with rare goods from distant lands. The Chinese porcelain seen in this picture is a type from the late Ming period (1368–1644). The Dutch named it kraak, because they found such objects on captured Portuguese ships called “carracks.”
Enhancing the scene is the visual harmony of the composition, which appears natural but is in fact the result of careful choices on the part of the artist. He placed the yellow apple at upper center and arranged other elements along diagonals bisecting the panel. Van der Ast’s still-lifes became popular with prominent collectors, and works similar to this one can be found in the 1632 inventory of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, and his wife Amalia van Solms.
Van der Ast’s painting can be compared with the Currier’s A Royal Dessert
of 1881 by William Michael Harnett (Currier, 2005.22
). Like Van der Ast, Harnett employed fine details to create a still-life so naturalistic as to create a “fool the eye,” or trompe-l’oeil, effect. Irish-born, Harnett spent most of his career in the United States but resided in Europe from 1880 to 1886. While abroad he made a study of Old Master paintings, including Dutch still-lifes. In A Royal Dessert
, painted in Munich, Harnett incorporated features, such as reflections on the grapes and spots on the fruit, that call to mind Van der Ast’s example.
Written by Elizabeth A. Nogrady
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. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1999.
2006-2007 Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, Extended Loan of European and American Paintings. Aug. 2006 - Nov. 2007.
2017-18 Currier Museum of Art, "Going Baroque." Dec. 9, 2017-Aug. 2018
Descended to his daughter Dr. Hildegard Weisse (1902-1983)
Estate of Dr. Hildegard Weisse
Ingrid Seidel, Zug. (niece of Dr. Weisse)
Purchased by Currier Museum of Art, 2004