Overview

The forest backdrop in this work—so dark that it nearly conceals a stone archway—emphasizes Abraham Mignon’s expressive use of light, which imparts a richness to his colors and forms. The fishing rod, bait box, and bundle of freshly caught fish next to the wicker basket overflowing with fruit and vegetables all evoke the bounty of the water and the land. The assembled objects furthermore form an allegory on the cycles of life. The eggs in the bird’s nest presage birth; the open blossoms and ripe fruits suggest maturity; and the gnarled tree stump denotes old age. Ultimately, the inevitability of death is conveyed by the ants eating the fish and a dead salamander in the foreground. The wheat stalks and grapes offer salvation by symbolizing Jesus' blessing of bread and wine at the Last Supper.

Mignon’s stunning array of textures certainly validates an early biographer’s observation that the artist was "especially diligent." After training in his native Germany, Mignon moved to Utrecht where he probably worked in the studio of Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606–1684), who resided in Utrecht from 1667 to 1672, before returning to Antwerp. Mignon consequently adopted De Heem's "Flemish" taste for rich color and complex design.

Inscription

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Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Private collection, England. private collection, Switzerland; (Peter Tillou Works of Art, Litchfield, Connecticut); purchased May 1986 by Mr. and Mrs. H. John Heinz III, Washington, D.C.;[1] gift 1989 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1989
Still Lifes of the Golden Age: Northern European Paintings from the Heinz Family Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989, no. 28.
1996
Obras Maestras de la National Gallery of Art de Washington, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, 74-75, color repro.
1997
Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 1997, unnumbered brochure.
2006
Loan to display with permanent collection, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, 2006-2007, unnumbered brochure, fig. 3.

Bibliography

1989
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Ingvar Bergström , eds. Still Lifes of the Golden Age: Northern European Paintings from the Heinz Family Collection. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Washington, 1989: no. 28, color repro. 75.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 174-176, color repro. 177.
2006
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. . In Celebration of Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s Still-Life with Grapes. Exhibition brochure. Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, 2006: fig. 3.

Conservation Notes

The support, a fine-weight, plain-weave fabric, has a double lining. The tacking margins have been trimmed, but cusping visible along all edges indicates that the original dimensions have been retained. A smooth, thin, white ground was applied overall, followed by a brown imprimatura that was also employed as the background tone. Infrared reflectography at 2.0 to 2.5 microns[1] reveals a grid layout for the transfer of the precise brush-applied underdrawing in the fish and fruits. It also shows changes in the positions of the lizard and the frog. Thin, smooth paint layers were applied in a slow, deliberate manner with some strokes blended wet-into-wet. Leaves painted transparently over the background incorporate the brown layer as a shadow.

A long horizontal tear in the lower right corner transverses the fish, while a smaller area of damage has occurred along the bottom edge at the left. Abrasion is minimal, and losses are confined to the edges and tears. Remnants of a selectively removed aged varnish layer are found over the background, while a fresher semi-matte varnish is present overall. No conservation has been carried out since acquisition.

 

[1] Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with a K astronomy filter.

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