Overview

Still lifes with hunting motifs became popular in Dutch art in the latter part of the seventeenth century, at a time when Dutch society grew wealthier and more refined. Willem van Aelst, who worked in Paris and Florence before settling in Amsterdam, was one of the first still-life painters to depict hunting trophies. Many such paintings create a heightened sense of reality by featuring full-scale representations of the objects they portray, as in the life-sized animals here. This kill includes a white rooster, a wild hare, a partridge, and several songbirds. Another large bird, possibly a black rooster, is partially hidden and cannot be identified because the canvas has been cropped, which has eliminated its head. Two red velvet hoods used in falconry dangle from a cord. The fly, attracted to the blood on the rooster's comb, may be the only sign of life, but it is also a harbinger of the decay that follows death. Van Aelst’s superb skill in rendering the illusion of fur, feathers, and flesh set a major precedent for later French, British, and American painters of sporting scenes.

The relief depicting the story of Diana and Actaeon, carved on the stone ledge, is evidence that Van Aelst's painting was intended to represent the general theme of the hunt rather than the spoils of a specific outing. Diana, the chaste goddess of the hunt, splashes water on Actaeon, a mortal huntsman who surprised her at her bath. In punishment for having embarrassed Diana, Actaeon sprouts the antlers of a stag and will be killed by his own hounds.

Inscription

lower right below table top: Guill.mo van. Aelst. 1661.

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Probably (sale, Amsterdam, 14 October 1749, no. 16).[1] Dr. C.J.K. van Aalst, Huis-te-Hoevelaken, by 1939;[2] (sale, Sotheby Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 18 May 1981, no. 1); (Richard Green, London); sold 8 June 1982 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1997
Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, 1997, unnumbered brochure.
2002
Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe L'Oeil Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2002-2003, not in catalogue.
2012
Elegance and Refinement: The Still Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Ntaional Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2012, no. 15, repro.

Bibliography

1939
Moltke, Joachim Wolfgang, ed. Dutch and Flemish old masters in the collection of Dr. C.J.K. van Aalst, Huis-te-Hoevelaken, Holland. Foreword by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Translated. Verona, 1939: 50, pl. 11.
1984
Sullivan, Scott A. The Dutch Gamepiece. Montclair, New Jersey, 1984: 91 n. 32.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 306, no. 405, color repro.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 17, repro.
1988
Grimm, Claus. Stilleben: die niederländischen und deutschen Meister. Stuttgart, 1988: 172, repros. 115-117.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 134, repro.
1995
Barolsky, Paul. "Still Life and Metamorphosis." Source 14, no. 2 (1995): 36, repro.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 3-4, color repro. 2.
1999
Chong, Alan, and Wouter Th. Kloek. Still-life Paintings from the Netherlands, 1550-1720. Exh. cat. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Cleveland Museum of Art. Zwolle, 1999: 244, fig. 61a.
2008
Paul, Tanya. "'Beschildert met een Glans': Willem van Aelst and artistic self-consciousness in seventeenth-century Dutch still life painting." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 2008: x, 130, 245, 282, 379, fig. 50.
2012
Paul, Tanya, et al. Elegance and Refinement: The still-life paintings of Willem van Aelst. Exh. cat. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 2012: 130-133, no. 15, repro.

Conservation Notes

The support is a fine-weight, plain-weave fabric that has been lined and the tacking margins have been trimmed. Like many of Van Aelst’s works of the 1650’s and 1660’s was prepared with a double ground: a lower layer of chalk toned with earth and a gray-brown upper ground.[1] The precision of the forms suggests that Van Aelst used some form of preliminary design. There is evidence that most of the composition was underpainted in tones of brown and gray. The handling of the final paint is extremely disciplined, with minute wet-into-wet strokes defining individual fibers in the feathers and building finely textured passages such as the rooster’s wattles.

Technical analysis revealed a significant, unintended alteration in the painting. In this work, as in most of Van Aelst’s hunt compositions, the game bag originally was not blue but green. The green bag was painted with a pigment mixture composed of ultramarine blue and a yellow lake based on a fugitive dyestuff such as weld. The yellow dyestuff has faded leaving only the blue pigment visible.[2]

The overall condition of the painting is excellent, with losses confined to the edges and the hare’s muzzle. Thin upper layers and glazes are moderately abraded, particularly in the rooster and partridge feathers, the pouch and strap, bas-relief shadows, and background. The painting was treated in 2010 to remove a discolored varnish and to inpaint the losses and abrasion.

 

[1] For an overview of Van Aelst’s materials and painting practices see E. Melanie Gifford, Anikó Bezur, Andrea Guidi di Bagno, and Lisha Deming Glinsman, "The making of a luxury image: van Aelst’s painting materials and artistic techniques," Elegance and Refinement: The Still-life Paintings of Willem van Aelst, Houston and Washington, 2012, 66-89.

[2] Analysis of paint cross-sections by light microscopy, SEM-EDX and microspectrofluorimetry was carried out by the NGA Scientific Research department. See Gifford et al. 78-80.

Related Works

Related Resources

  • Event Type
    Event Name
    March 1–June 1
    Mon, Tues, and Wed at 1:00
    March 5, 2012 at 2:00
    March 7, 2012 at 4:00
    East Building, Auditorium
    Name of docent
    image:
    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum
    60 minutes
    Registration for this event begins on April 1, 2012 at noon.
    Download the program notes (100k)
  • Self-Guided Tour
    Italian Collection
    image:
    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum