Lot 67
  • 67

BALTHASAR VAN DER AST | A still life with apricots, cherries, a wild strawberry, red currants, shells and insects

400,000 - 600,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • A still life with apricots, cherries, a wild strawberry, red currants, shells and insects
  • signed lower left: B. vander. Ast
  • oil on panel


Anonymous sale, London, Robinson & Fischer, 11 November 1937, lot 17;
Captain E.G. Spencer-Churchill, M.C., Northwick Park, Blockley, Gloucestershire;
His sale, London, Christie's, 1 April 1960, lot 61 (2,400 gns to Agnews);
With Thomas Agnew & Sons, London;
Private collection, England;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 16 April 1999, lot 45;
There acquired by Richard Green, London;
From whom purchased by the present owner.


Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, Hidden Treasures:  Works of Art from Oxfordshire Private Collections, 1993, no. 1.


L.J. Bol, "List of Works of Balthasar van der Ast" in The Bosschaert Dynasty, Leigh-on-Sea 1960, p. 81, cat. no. 91.

Catalogue Note

This beautifully observed still life, signed at lower left, highlights Balthasar Van der Ast’s virtuosity on a small scale.  Upon this tiny surface, he shows off his superb skill in drafting a composition with simple yet steadfast lines and a lovely mix of rich colors.  Here, he has meticulously arranged a scene of fruit, shells, and insects in such a way so as to create a balanced and naturalistic impression, and by using a low vantage point and dark shadows, he imbues the scene with a sense of volume and immediacy.  It is with ambitious and realistic paintings such as the present example that Van der Ast established his own artistic reputation, one initially rooted in the traditions of Jan Brueghel the Elder and Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (his brother in law), as an artist at the forefront of Netherlandish still-life painting in the first half of the seventeenth century. 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.