Illusion, Elegance & Refinement
First monographic exhibition devoted to the Dutch artist Willem van Aelst (1627-1683) at the National Gallery of Art
Renowned for the luxury and magnificence of his still lifes and the brilliance of his palette, Willem van Aelst has not been the subject of a monographic exhibition until today. A special case though justifiable because of the limited expectations generated by the still life in the great museums, despite being one of the most renowned Dutch artists of his time. The exhibition consists of 28 compositions that illustrate chronologically the artist's career. His success and international fame moved him from Delft to Paris and then to the Florence of the Medici, where he arrived in the early 1650's to become one of the favorites of this court.
He painted still lifes for cardinals Giovan Carlo and Leopoldo de 'Medici, in response to his interest in hunting, botany and natural history. The illusionistic device displays of Van Aelst in these paintings, with refinement and preciosity, is reinforced by its extraordinary ability to make materials –as diverse as glass, marble, metal or fabric– shine brightly. A preciousness that obtained economic and critical recognition of the European aristocracy who claimed their work.
After a decade abroad, Van Aelst returned to the Netherlands in 1656. In Amsterdam, he developed a more fluid and rhythmic style to compete in a new market that claimed for more realistic details, such as insects that are sown among leaves and flowers. Virtuosity that led to some poets of his time to praise the ability of Willem van Aels to transmit the inner spirit of the objects, raising them to a scene of luxury and refinement in which the still life appears more alive than ever through illusion.
Willem van Aelst. Still Life with Fruit, Nuts, Butterflies, and Other Insects on a Ledge.Circa 1677. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Candy and Greg Fazakerley.