An inventory of 1632 confirms the presence of this rare set of pendant paintings by the still-life master Balthasar van der Ast in the collection of Princess Amalia van Solms, wife of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange. The two works complement each other and reinforce the message that one should be grateful for the abundance and beauty of God’s creation. Both works feature a centrally placed wicker basket overflowing with a semicircular array of still-life objects, both natural and man-made, including fruit, flowers, shells, and exotic Wan-Li porcelain from China (referencing, respectively, the elements of earth, air, water, and fire).
Van der Ast was trained by his brother-in-law, the noted still-life painter Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621). Like his mentor, Van der Ast created symmetrical compositions from meticulous preparatory drawings or watercolor studies made from life of blooming flowers, ripe fruits, and exotic shells—elements the artist was then able to combine, and recombine, in his paintings without needing to have the actual objects in front of him. Departing from his teacher’s penchant for crisp and vivid compositions, Van der Ast softened his contours, used more muted colors, and selectively highlighted the central core of his still lifes. He reinforced the dramatic effect by bringing his forms close to the picture plane and by compressing the space between the various elements. Van der Ast further enlivened the flower arrangement here with a dragonfly and a hermit crab emerging from its shell.
By the early 1630s, the Prince of Orange, Frederik Hendrik, and his wife, Amalia van Solms, had formed an important collection of contemporary Dutch and Flemish paintings. Their taste led them to collect mythological and allegorical paintings as well as princely portraits. The inventory of their possessions made in 1632 lists only four still lifes, two of which hung in a small room belonging to the princess that also contained two allegorical paintings attributed to
S. W. A. Drossaers with Cornelis Hofstede de Groot and C. H. de Jonge, "Inventaris van de meubelen van het Stadhouderlijk kwartier met het Speelhuis en van het Huis in het Noordeinde te 's-Gravenhage," Oud-Holland 47 (1930): 212, nos. 76, 77: “Twee cleyne schilderikens met ebben lijsten, het een een mandeken met fruyten ende het ander een mandeken met bloemen, door [Balthasar] van der Ast gedaen” (“Two small paintings with ebony frames, the one a basket with fruits and the other a basket with flowers, by Van der Ast”). The inventory was made in August 1632.
The connection between the description in this inventory and these two paintings was first made by Laurens J. Bol, "Een Middelburgse Brueghel-groep," Oud-Holland 70 (1955): 146, note 36. Laurens J. Bol, in The Bosschaert Dynasty: Painters of Flowers and Fruit, trans. A. M. de Bruin-Cousins (Leigh-on-Sea, 1960), has identified only three other pairs by Van der Ast, none of which answers to the description in the inventory (cat. nos. 43, 44; 51, 52; 53, 80).
A large proportion of the paintings in the princely collection had been executed by artists from Utrecht; thus it may well be that Van der Ast’s work was known to Amalia van Solms as a result of his residence in Utrecht during the 1620s.
Van der Ast was trained by his brother-in-law,
See Ingvar Bergström et al., Clarity in Awareness: An Exhibition of Fine and Important Dutch and Flemish XVIIth-Century Still-Life Paintings (London, 1984), 66–75.
See Ingvar Bergström, "Baskets with Flowers by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder and Their Repercussions on the Art of Balthasar van der Ast," Tableau 6 (1983–1984): 66, fig. 1.
Laurens J. Bol, in The Bosschaert Dynasty: Painters of Flowers and Fruit, trans. A. M. de Bruin-Cousins (Leigh-on-Sea, 1960), has identified this tulip, known as a “Summer Beauty,” in at least six other compositions (cat. nos. 18, 20, 26, 46, 63, 116).
A clear difference, however, exists between the two artists. Whereas Bosschaert’s blossoms are crisp and their colors vivid, Van der Ast’s forms are softer, with diffuse contours and more muted colors, as in his Basket of Flowers. Light no longer plays evenly over the surface, but selectively highlights the central core of the composition, creating a more dynamic image than any comparable painting by Bosschaert. Van der Ast reinforces this effect by bringing his forms close to the picture plane and compressing the space between the various compositional elements. Finally, he adds variety to his scene, not only with the plethora of flowers in his basket, including tulips, roses, irises, fritillaria, columbine, an anemone, a hyacinth, a carnation, and a cyclamen leaf, but also with the rare and exotic shells and fruit that lie on the table. A dragonfly in the upper right and a hermit crab in the lower left further enliven the scene.
The same richness within a small scale is evident in the companion piece, Basket of Fruits. Plums, apples, apricots, three sorts of grapes, a Seville orange, and a quince are arranged in a wicker basket identical to that in
As pendants, the two works complement each other in a number of ways. Their compositions are virtually identical: a centrally located overflowing wicker basket with still-life elements grouped around it in a semicircular manner. The combination of fruit and flowers found in these two works creates a sense of appreciation for the abundance and beauty of God’s creation, a prevalent theme in early seventeenth-century still-life painting.
See Ingvar Bergström, Still Lifes of the Golden Age: Northern European Paintings from the Heinz Family Collection (Washington, DC, 1989), 11–25.
Van der Ast almost certainly created these works in the early 1620s. The soft, atmospheric character of his painting style reflects the influence of
Sam Segal, Flowers and Nature: Netherlandish Flower Painting of Four Centuries (The Hague, 1990), 190.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right: .B.vander.ast...
Probably Princess Amalia van Solms [1602-1675], The Hague, by 1632. (sale, Philippus van der Schley, Amsterdam, 16 February 1802 and days following, 1st day, no. 55 [with NGA 1992.51.2]); Levij Pakker. Mrs. Beaumont, England; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 19 March 1906, no. 17 [with NGA 1992.51.2]); (Collings). (Fritz Gerstel Gallery, Berlin); (his sale, Kunstsalon Keller & Reiner, Berlin, 21-22 January 1908, no. 36 [with NGA 1992.51.2]). (Kunsthandel Gebr. Douwes, Amsterdam), c. 1938; sold to Dr. Hans Wetzlar, Amsterdam, by 1952; (his sale, Sotheby Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 9 June 1977, no. 5 [with NGA 1992.51.2]); (John Mitchell & Son, London); sold November 1977 to Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1992 to NGA.
- Jubileumtentoonstelling, Kunsthandel Gebr. Douwes, Amsterdam, 1955, no. 2.
- La Nature Morte et son inspiration, Galerie André Weil, Paris, 1960, no. 1.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 2.
- From Botany to Bouquets: Flowers in Northern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999, no. 3, fig. 36, as Basket of Fruit.
- Judith Leyster, 1609-1660, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009, unnumbered brochure.
- Friedländer, Max J. Collection Dr. H. Wetzlar. Amsterdam, 1952: 8, no. 3a, repro.
- Bol, Laurens J. "Een Middelburgse Brueghel-groep." Oud Holland 70 (1955): 146, 153.
- Kunsthandel Gebr. Douwes. Jubileumtentoonstelling, 1805-1955 . Amsterdam, 1955: 1, no. 2.
- Bol, Laurens J. The Bosschaert Dynasty: Painters of Flowers and Fruit. Translated by A.M. de Bruin-Cousins. Leigh-on-Sea, 1960: 38, 79, no. 72, 102 n. 85.
- Segal, Sam. Flowers and nature: Netherlandish flower painting of four centuries. Translated by Ruth Koenig. Exh. cat. Nabio Museum of Art, Osaka; Tokyo Station Gallery, Tokyo; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Amstelveen, 1990: 190, 191 n. 3 (where the reference to Bol 1960 gives an incorrect citation to "no. 32" that should be "no. 38").
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 5, 8, color repro. 6.
- Spicer, Joaneath A., and Lynn Federle Orr. Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age. Exh. cat. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; National Gallery, London. New Haven, 1997: 362.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. A Collector's Cabinet. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998: 65, no. 2.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. From Botany to Bouquets: Flowers in Northern Art. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1999: 46-47, 83; no. 3, fig. 36.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Michael Swicklik. "Behind the Veil: Restoration of a Dutch Marine Painting Offers a New Look at Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and History." National Gallery of Art Bulletin, no. 37 (Fall 2007): 4, 5, fig .5.
- 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: 128, fig. 48.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Daniëlle H.A.C. Lokin. Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer. Japanese ed. Exh. cat. Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai; Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, 2011: 29, fig. 2.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Daniëlle H.A.C. Lokin. Human Connections in the Age of Vermeer. Exh. cat. Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai; Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo. London, 2011: 20, fig. 3.
- 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: 39, fig. 3.
The support is a single, horizontally grained wood board with thin wood strips attached to edges on all four sides. The edges of the panel are beveled on the back. Paint is applied over an off-white ground in thin, opaque, and translucent layers with minimal brushmarking. Discolored inpainting covers scattered minor losses, particularly in the fruit. The ground is visible through small areas of moderate abrasion. No conservation has been carried out since acquisition.
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