Museum of Fine Arts Houston opens Elegance and Refinement. The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst

. March 11, 2012 . 0 Comments

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presents Elegance and Refinement. The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst, an exhibition on view March 11–May 28, 2012.


Willem van Aelst, (Dutch, 1627 – after 1687), Fruit Still Life with a Mouse, 1674. Oil on canvas. Private Collection, Boston.

The first-ever monographic exhibition of Dutch still-life painter Willem van Aelst (1627–1683) premieres at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), March 11–May 28, 2012. Co-organized by the MFAH, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst features 28 of the artist’s finest works culled from private and public collections in the United States and Europe. Recognized as one of the leading painters in the Dutch Republic during the “Golden Age” of Dutch painting, he was largely forgotten by the 19th century. The exhibition aims to restore Van Aelst’s stature by showcasing his technical brilliance, attention to detail and ingenious brushwork for 21st-century audiences to discover.
“Van Aelst’s luxuriant compositions, rich in detail, bring to life the elegant tabletop settings of the 17th century. Over two dozen of his detailed, vibrant paintings will be on view, filled with sumptuous fabrics, elegant stone tables, ripe fruit, artfully arranged hunting trophies and brilliant platters, cups, watches, armor and more,” said James Clifton, Director of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation and Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Painting at the MFAH. “Also on view will be a large-scale painting, long credited to artist Willem Kalf, which was recently reattributed to Van Aelst during a technical examination by a National Gallery of Art conservation scientist. Within the exhibition, the painting will be rightly reunited with other works from the artist’s oeuvre.”
Elegance and Refinement is co-curated by Clifton and Arthur Wheelock, Curator of Northern Baroque Painting at the National Gallery of Art. The project was conceived by Tanya Paul, Ruth G. Hardman Curator of European Art at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, following her Ph.D. dissertation on the artist and was developed while she was a curatorial fellow at the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston. Following Houston, the exhibition will be presented at the National Gallery of Art June 24–October 14, 2012. A hardcover, illustrated catalogue of the same title, published by Skira Rizzoli in association with the MFAH, accompanies the exhibition. It is the first book dedicated solely to Van Aelst’s oeuvre and contains essays by Clifton, Wheelock, Paul and Julie Berger Hochstrasser, as well as an essay by conservators and conservation scientists, Melanie Gifford, Anikó Bezur, Andrea Guidi di Bagno and Lisha Deming Glinsman.

The paintings in the exhibition cover the range of the artist’s career and are culled from collections including the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation (permanently on view at the MFAH) and the National Gallery of Art. Five paintings will be on loan from the Galleria Palatina at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, which holds the largest concentration of Van Aelst’s work since it was collected extensively by the Medici court and later transferred to state collections. Others works have been lent by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna; Mauritshuis, The Hague; and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Van Aelst was born in Delft in 1627 and apprenticed as a painter with an uncle who had associations with the court of the Princes of Orange in The Hague. At 16 he was admitted into the Guild of St. Luke but left shortly thereafter to travel south to France and Italy. This decade-long sojourn was unusual for an artist from the Netherlands and greatly impacted his career.
Van Aelst spent some five years in Paris immersed in the artistic community of Saint-Germain-des-Près, where he was influenced by the Flemish-born painter and dealer Jean Michel Picart (c. 1600–1682). Picart’s knowledge of the Parisian art market provided Van Aelst with an impetus to refine his style, adapting a harder, finer finish and employing the use of high-quality, expensive pigments such as ultramarine. Van Aelst next traveled to Italy where he was introduced to the Medici court in Florence where Cardinal Giovan Carlo Medici and his brother, Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici became his patrons. He worked briefly in Rome as well, but his career there came to an abrupt halt when a fight with a Frenchman forced Van Aelst to flee the city to avoid prison.
Van Aelst finally settled in Amsterdam in 1657 and also found a successful market for his work in his home country. Almost 30 years old, he returned as an experienced and valued artist and was able to pay off debt owed for rent and wine expenses. In Amsterdam he also amassed enough wealth to purchase a home along the Keizergracht, one of the most exclusive streets in the city. He married, had two children and took on two pupils of his own—one who is also renowned today: Rachel Ruysch. Van Aelst died in 1683. – www.mfah.org

Category: Museum News

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