AELST, Willem van
(b. 1627, Delft, d. ca. 1683, Amsterdam)

Still-Life with Hunting Equipment and Dead Birds

Oil on canvas, 68 x 54 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

In addition to fruit and flower still-lifes with cool colour harmonies, van Aelst also enjoyed painting elegant hunting weapons and dead animals placed in a dark corner by a wall for rich clients. One example is this still-life.

A dead partridge is hanging by its leg from a piece of string. Its wings and feathers, which are grey with brownish patches, open up towards us at the bottom like a fan. The fly on the light-coloured feathers has an illusionist effect: disproportionately large in size, it belongs to the realistic level of the picture rather than its fictitious one, so that the viewer is given the impression that a real fly is crawling across the painting. The bird's head has been pressed slightly towards the middle by the blue hunting bag with the golden fringe and the adjustable shoulder strap which is lying on the stone shelf. Beside the partridge a hunting horn, also adorned with tassels, and a powder bottle have been hung up. The shiny, metallic grey of the hunting horn has been painted by the artist with a highly sensitive eye for the different hues of the bird's fluffy, grey feathers on its breast and as a contrast to the grey of the wings which merges into white towards the middle.

But, although the bird has been rendered with almost unsurpassable precision, it has an odd abstract quality. It seems as if, in its material consistency, it had undergone a synthesis with the implement of civilization by which it was pursued - as if it was no longer merely part of nature and a victim, but an aesthetically refined and ennobled form of existence.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 9 minutes):
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in B flat major RV 362 op. 8 No. 10 (Hunt)