(b. 1611, Antwerpen, d. 1661, Antwerpen)
Oil on wood, 49 x 63,5 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
The fact that this subtle still-life is known under the title Mushrooms is understandable given the prominent place taken by four boletus in the left foreground of the picture. This name fails, though, to do justice to the other elements that, precisely through their presence alongside the mushrooms, form an exceptionally balanced composition: to the left a wicker basket, to the right of it a melon, a root of celery and four thrushes, which, along with the warm, greenish brown colouring, appear to evoke autumn. It is not impossible that a reference to autumn is indeed woven into this jewel of a painting. But apart from the objects themselves there is no unambiguous reference to any symbolic, literary or allegorical significance. This may be precisely one of the charms of what is a fairly self enclosed painting for a modern viewer whose pictorial culture has been so strongly formed by the poetic cult of art for art's sake and form for form's sake, i.e. of "pure" art, which turns its back on any prosaic anecdotal intent. Or whose sensitivity for the refined play of surfaces and for carefully balanced colour nuances and the objects that populate everyday life has since been whetted by contact with masters like Jean Siméon Chardin.
The still-life painter Jan Fyt was a pupil of his better known colleague Frans Snyders. In 1629 he became a free master in Antwerp, but he also lived in Paris and in Italy. His oeuvre had a major influence on Pieter Boel, who may well have been his pupil. Fyt was a self-confident artist whose sophisticated and expensive work was, in his own words, purchased mainly by the high nobility. His art reflects a more general development towards an aristocratisation of social life. In the noticeable refinement of texture and colour, Fyt's relationship to Snyders is similar to that of Anthony van Dyck to Peter Paul Rubens. In Rubens and Snyders robust, highly plastic forms dominate. Not averse to a certain degree of sentimentality, Van Dyck and Fyt seem to exchange this organic powerfulness for a fragile sensitivity. This leads to an art that will speak in particular to lovers of artistic nuance.