PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
De Mauduit collection, Paris, by 1963;
Sir Robert Bird, 2nd Baronet (1876–1650);
His sale, Paris, Musée Galliéra, 1 April 1965, lot 2;
Private collection, Switzerland;
Anonymous sale ('Monsieur G...'), Paris, Ader Picard Tajan, 14 April 1989, lot 215;
With Richard Green, London, by November 1989, when advertised in The Burlington Magazine, no. 1040, vol. CXXXI;
Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby's, 9 July 1998, lot 40, for £300,000;
Where acquired by the present owner.
Geneva, Musée d'art et d'histoire, 1963, no. 3;
London, Richard Green, Exhibition of Old Master and English Paintings, 1989, no. 5.
A parrot perches on an upturned wicker basket; apples, walnuts and bunches of grapes spill out, heaped over other fruits arranged on a pewter dish. The reflective surface at the centre of the composition draws attention to the plate’s rim as it juts over the edge of a grey stone table. Exotic shells lie on either side (one overhangs precariously), while on the right a lizard comes to the very edge. Its serpentine shape echoes the curves of a dark coloured glass vase with a gilt foot that stands immediately behind. The arrangement of flowers mixes an iris with tulips, roses and columbine. Two insects – a bee and possibly a hover-fly – buzz against an unadorned backdrop that enhances the colours and silhouettes of feathers, flowers, fruit and leaves.
Grouped by L.J. Bol with eight other of Van der Ast’s most elaborate still lifes, of which only one is dated (1641), this painting is a complex display that includes unusual motifs, such as the upturned basket and the parrot in brilliant plumage. One notable example with a similar basket spilling out its contents onto a table is a still life at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, painted on a smaller panel than the present work sometime after 1632.1 Another, with the near-identical motif of the upturned basket and parrot, also on a smaller panel, was sold at auction in 2012 and is datable to the second half of the 1630s.2 Parrots appear in the artist’s work from the early 1620s; for example, Flowers and Fruits with a Parrot at the Museum Flehite, Amersfoort;3 and a more densely packed composition dated to the same decade at the Toledo Museum of Art.4 A characteristic element of the present painting is the inclusion of shells, which Van der Ast developed into his own specialism.
Born in Middelburg, Van der Ast entered one of the greatest dynasties of still-life painters when his sister married Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621), founder of a highly successful tradition in the genre. He trained in his brother-in-law’s studio and like him painted mainly flowers and fruit, creating a body of work that consists of around two-hundred paintings varying considerably in size. Living in Utrecht by 1619, Van der Ast developed his own individual style. He later moved to Delft where in 1632 he joined the city’s Guild of St Luke and remained there for the rest of his career.
As Dr Fred G. Meijer points out, since the artist did not date any work after about 1628, the chronology of Van der Ast's later production is difficult, also because his style and handling were rather consistent. The earliest known still life by Van der Ast to combine flowers, fruit and shells in a single composition is a work at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, dated twice 1620 and 1621.5 In the 1630s the artist began to introduce into his compositions flying insects such as those seen here. Dr Sam Segal, who studied this painting in 1989, concluded that it can be dated to around 1640, during Van der Ast’s final period in Delft.6 In Dr Meijer's view, a date from the mid-1630s is also possible. We are grateful to him for his observations.
1 AFI.3.2002; oil on oak panel, 43.5 x 74.3 cm. London, Sotheby’s, 6 July 2000, lot 57.
2 49.8 x 76.3 cm.; sold London, Christie's, 4 December 2012, lot 16.
3 0001-129; oil on panel, 89 x 122 cm.
4 1951.381; oil on panel, 55.2 x 89.2 cm.
5 SK-A-2152; oil on panel, 39.2 x 69.8 cm.; Bol 1960, no. 96, reproduced.
6 A copy of a certificate by Dr Sam Segal dated 9 August 1989, Amsterdam, is available on request.
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