THE GILDED AGE REVISITED: PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION
The most prominent items within this scene are three ripe golden apricots, softly rendered and slightly blushed. The three balance on a curving wooden branch, that lies horizontally across most of the visible stone surface and partly serves as a landing place for a delicate dragonfly. Two deep green leaves attached to the stem of one of the apricots are poised above the scene, their large and sinuous forms, topped by one small bumblebee, highlighted against a muted background. Mirroring the forms of this foliage are the outstretched wings of small fly and a red butterfly who flutter at right. The red of this butterfly is echoed in the other fruit that sit very close to the foreground. Next to the sprig of juicy currants at left is a wild strawberry whose stem reaches towards one of the apricots. To the right of these are two cherries surrounded by a few droplets of fresh water. One smooth and auger shell lies across the right foreground, and three other shells of various textures and shapes are strewn throughout: one cowry shell lies behind the auger, while a marble cone and a small black and white cone (conus abraeus) lie to the left of the peaches. Though visually stable in the composition, all of the elements are so realistically rendered and arranged that it seems any slight movement of the panel would cause them to move: the auger shell in the foreground might roll out of position, the droplets of water may turn into puddles, and the single spider hiding under the shadow of a leaf at center might quickly scurry away.
Van der Ast was trained by his brother-in-law, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621), and had learned from him the fundamentals of painting, in particular the accurate depiction of flowers, fruits, shells, insects, baskets, and Chinese-export ceramics - the subjects of his paintings. He may also have learned from Bosschaert the art of making drawings or watercolor studies of flowers, fruits, and shells to use as models that could be variously combined. A clear difference, however, exists between the two artists. Whereas Bosschaert's blossoms are crisp and their colors vivid, Van der Ast softens his forms with diffuse contours and more muted colors. Light no longer plays evenly over the surface, but selectively highlights specific details and the central core of the composition, creating a more diffused image than any comparable painting by Bosschaert.
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