Frans Snyders - Still life with small game birds and a fruit basket

Frans Snyders

Still life with small game birds and a fruit basket

Oil on panel: 24(h) x 33.6(w) in /

61(h) x 85.3(w) cm

Signed lower left: F. Snÿders . fecit

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FRANS SNYDERS

1579 – Antwerp – 1657

 

Still life with small game birds and a fruit basket

 

Signed lower left: F. Snÿders . fecit

Oil on panel: 24 x 33 5/8 in / 61 x 85.3 cm

Frame size: 31 ½ x 41 ½ in / 80 x 105.4 cm

In a Flemish style carved and gilded polished oak frame

 

Painted circa 1615-17

 

Provenance:

Leonard Koetser Ltd, London;

from whom acquired on 29th October 1964 for £5,000 by

Mrs EJ Houlder, London

 

Exhibited:

London, Leonard Koetser Ltd., 1964 Autumn Exhibition of Flemish Dutch and Italian Old Masters, pp.30-31, no.20, illus. in colour

Bergamo, Galleria Lorenzelli (Pietro and Alberto Veca), Orbus Pictus. Natura morta in Germania, Olanda, Fiandre XVI-XVII secolo, 1986, p.213, fig. 101

 

Literature:

Edith Greindl, Les Peintres flamands de nature morte au XVIIe siècle, Sterrebeek 1983, p.374, no.41

Hella Robels, Frans Snyders. Stilleben and Tiermaler, 1579-1657, Munich 1989, pp.250, under no.105; 264, no.131

Susan Koslow, Frans Snyders, The Noble Estate. Seventeenth-century Still-life and Animal painting in the Southern Netherlands, Antwerp 1995; reprint, Amsterdam 2006

Susan Koslow, “ ‘Law and Order in Rubens’s ‘Wolf and Fox Hunt’ ”, The Art Bulletin, vol. 78, 1996, issue 4, pp.680-706

Jochem Wadum, North Netherlandish 17th Century panel Makers’ House Marks, University of Amsterdam (online, and with further references)

 

 

Biography

Frans Snyders was the preeminent Flemish still-life and animal specialist in the first half of the seventeenth century. Born in 1579, in Antwerp, he was apprenticed to Pieter Brueghel the Younger; nine years later, in 1602, he was received as a free master in the Guild of St. Luke. Except for a journey to Italy in the first decade of the seventeenth century, he remained in the (Habsburg) Netherlands until his death in 1659 at the venerable age of 78. He received eleven passports to travel to the Dutch Republic between 1635 and1648. Most likely these trips were undertaken for business, be it selling finished work or to obtain commissions.

 

He had only three apprentices inscribed in the ledgers of the Guild of St Luke; of these, Nicasius Bernaerts alone developed a reputation when he moved to France. Snyders’s very productive workshop mainly relied on family members and skilled assistants, since his marriage to Margriete de Vos in 1611 was barren. Had he had male offspring, sons would have been trained in the arts to work with him. Fortunately, the de Vos family, his in-laws, were outstanding painters. Paul became a still-life and animal painter, like his brother-in-law, and very much in the same style; Cornelis de Vos’s calling was figurative. Hence he was tasked with painting staffage if Snyders himself or another artist, such as Rubens, painted the figures. In the art world of Antwerp and the Habsburg Netherlands Snyders had several close friendships, including with Jan Breughel the Elder, Hendrik van Balen, and Rubens. Finally, his nephew Hendrik de Rasieres (Rosiers, Rogiers) should be mentioned too. To this young man he bequeathed his second-best easel, his second-best grinding stone, and an illustrated book of Aesopic fables. By the end of his life, Snyders was regarded as one of Antwerp’s leading citizens – he had become a member of the elite society of Romanists and dean of the arts’ guild; he was one of the city’s wealthiest as well. By dint of hard labor and brilliance, and a cultivated clientele, he acquired considerable monies, sufficient to purchase a substantial residence, De Fortune (Fortune or “good fortune”) on one of the city’s most desirable streets, the Keizersgracht. His next door neighbor was the renowned mayor of Antwerp, Nicolas Rockox, an art lover, a learned humanist and a respected politician. Snyders’s social status is confirmed by the many visits he received from princes, grandees, and nobles of his day, as well as by learned patricians and government officials of the Habsburg Netherlands and Antwerp. Philip IV, king of Spain, owned a considerable number of Snyders’s works; these decorated his private quarters where he could enjoy them at his leisure; the king’s favorite, the Marquis of Leganés, likewise was a great admirer of Snyders’s art; he owned well over 50 pictures by the master. Snyders’s inventions were recognized throughout Europe, where his work was imitated and emulated. Honorable yes, but not one of the elite when he was born; his parents were successful innkeepers and caterers. However, when he died in 1657, he had reach the summit a painter could reach; his skill, knowledge, innovations, and ingenuity had made him one of the most influential and respected painters of Antwerp and a citizen of notable prominence.

From Nature to Art

Snyders’s parents were successful innkeepers who also owned a catering facility. Known as “The Painted House,” the inn was already successful in the previous century; among its customers was the celebrated painter Frans Floris. Situated at a commercial hub, where thoroughfares lined with shops intersected with markets, the inn was in easy walking distance to the Scheldt River where the fish market vended sweet and saltwater fish and other aquatic creatures. The butcher’s hall was in this area too. Produce – vegetables and fruit – was sold in several licensed markets just a few steps from the family’s businesses. Is it not likely that the experience of handling various viands may well have been instrumental in contributing to Snyders’s extraordinary mastery in depicting animals and produce? These opportunities were critical; however, the artist had to discover how to translate visual experience into pictorial representation. This he achieved seemingly effortlessly, yet trials must have ensued before he achieved success. Surprisingly no examples of his training pieces exist in any medium. Snyders’s pen, ink and wash drawings are largely compositional; they are not detailed studies of fauna or flora. But the picture considered here does have examples tucked away on the left side of the panel and elsewhere. Tiny birds’ heads appear to be oil studies; these would not have been visible when the frame was in place. Perhaps they are studies he undertook while working on this picture.

 

Specialization

Although a skilled figurative painter, Snyders chose to specialize in animal and still-life imagery. In the hierarchy of pictorial subjects these were regarded as inferior. Nonetheless, Snyders transformed both genres, giving them an importance they never possessed previously. As the early 17th-century became increasingly restive for ever more new imagery, Snyders found unexploited niches in animal and produce subjects which he developed, expanding their range both in size and subjects. While he did paint a few mythological hunt pictures in collaboration with Rubens and other luminaries of the Antwerp school, his focus was on animal hunts such as nobles pursued on their estates. Boar, deer and even bears were among the creatures of elite hunt scenes. The dog packs depicted in these subjects were of high status; they included various types, suited for different game or aspects of hunting. In these pictures, animals did battle with each other, rather than foregrounding the heroics of humanity. Hunters, if represented, are tiny figures in the wings or backgrounds. Birds, exotic and domestic, simians, serpents, porcupines, foxes, wolves, bears, horses, crustaceans, seals and eels are among the creatures that appear in his pictures, as well as lions – a menagerie of the commonplace and the unusual; some appear as actors in aesopic fables, others, characters without a literary source. The latter, I denote as “animal genre.”

 

Snyders’s inventiveness is no less true for his pictures of produce -vegetables and fruit. Here too, Snyders excelled. His scenes of food vendors (“markets”), wreaths, garlands, and diverse still lifes have a breathtaking amplitude, yet motifs are organized to maximize legibility. Brimming with creativity, Snyders fashioned a new still life type suited to the historical circumstances of his day: “the still life of lordship” or “the seignorial still life”. While seignorial may not be a familiar “household word,” it accurately alludes to the pre-modern feudal world, its economic system, and social norms. Though reflecting times past, they also signify a new reality, the early modern era. Fortuitously for Snyders, his sensibilities, his artistic skills, his acute “scientific” or observational abilities suited the cultural and economic transformations taking place in his day.

 

The Still Life of “Lordship” or the “Seignorial” Still Life

(A lordship or seignory is a tract of land or lands owned by a lord. It can include hamlets, markets, religious institutions, manors, tenancies and so forth. Also, what lies below the surface is counted as the seignory too. The lord or seignor has various authorities vested in him, including the right to collect fines, and in some instances, impose capital punishment).

 

What is a Seignorial Still Life?

Still Life with Small Game Birds and a Fruit Basket is a superb example of a cabinet-size “lordship or seignorial still life,” a new type of still life invented by Snyders, that have been incorrectly titled larders, kitchens, pantries or banquets, as explained below. Snyders’s pictures portray diverse goods that an estate (lordship, seignory) harbors or nurtures; these foodstuffs are referred to as “unbought,” since marketing is not involved. (The term refers to the idealized simplicity of pastoral or rural life that the Augustan Roman poet Horace extolled). A lord’s estate provides its owner with his table’s provisions; stores for the wintry seasons; game gifts, such as a haunch of venison, meals for festive occasions, and considerably more extensive goods.

 

The designation – seignorial or lordship still life – is not linked to the size of a picture; rather, it is the contents, the motifs depicted and what they signify socially.

 

Historical and Social Context: A New Start: the reemergence of peace and prosperity and its effects on the Habsburg Netherlands

As merchants and government officials grew wealthy, acquired the prestige of status, and authority, their possessions increasingly reflected the two worlds they straddled: past and present, the feudal and the emerging capitalism of the early modern world. These men acquired estates, actively attempted to receive heritable noble titles, heraldic identity, and the trappings of society’s elite. At the same time, as their wealth increased from manufacture, trade, urban ways of life, a new humanistic outlook profoundly influenced by neo-Stoicism and Jesuit teachings shaped the mentality of these learned wealthy southern Netherlanders. If possible these men obtained titles of nobility; if unsuccessful, they obtained marks of status and imagery that represented their desired identity.

 

An overwhelming desire for peace, which was achieved in the 1609 Twelve Year Truce, stimulated hope for the restoration of law and order and long-term prosperity. This decade witnessed construction and reconstruction, unimpeded trade, and the encouragement of new manufactures, especially in luxury goods. Painting played a central role in fashioning mentalities, both religious, historical, and regional. From rural to urban, from farmer to tradesman, to bourgeoisie, to government officials, to nobles and the sovereign, a pictorial identity of the state was created.

 

Still Life with Small Game Birds and a Fruit Basket exemplifies the new still life genre that Snyders’s created soon after 1610, in the Habsburg Netherlands. Various trends – political, economic, social, and cultural by happy circumstance converged at that time, opening the way for this invention. All varieties of foodstuffs may appear in such pictures, and all are uncooked. The one exception is glazed or sugared cookies. The seignorial still life does not depict goods acquired in a market or from a vendor; they are goods the seignory provides its owner. Fruit, vegetables, small and large game, birds of fields and forests, fish, salt water and sweet, poultry and domestic animals, indeed all that lives or grows on the lands of a lordship. Together with freshly gathered goods, a variety of precious serving dishes, such as porcelain bowls, and other costly tableware are present, as are sturdy serviceable wicker baskets and ceramic bowls, to name a few examples. Boards or tables are covered with cloth, frequently red, occasionally Turkish carpets. Of course there are exceptions and other hues were selected occasionally. If staffage was needed – a page in livery, a hunter attired in a modish manner indicating the household’s lordly status, and a kitchen maid neatly attired – the personnel added a human dimension. Decorum reigns even when suggestive sexual inuendo is implied between couples.

 

When live animals are added to the still life, sound and movement bring the scene to life; without supervision, the seemingly domesticated, those who have learned to quell their natural desires, lack restraint; they break their leads or chains, and give way to innate desire. Even leashed hunting hounds cannot resist sniffing or licking drops of blood from freshly killed game. This detail is important for several reasons; in this context it underscores how brief the time is that elapsed between the capture of an animal and its storage within the service area of the building. Service sections generally were separate from the living spaces of an estate to protect the house from fire and cooking odors. Known as a service structure, various chambers were used for diverse functions relating to food: storage of various kinds, a buttery (storage of beverages), preparation prior to presentation at the table, butchering chambers, hearths, and numerous other spaces to accommodate activities relating to cuisine or household necessities.

 

Among live animals depicted in seignorial still lifes are “high-end” pets, exotica, such as parrots and simians; others are domestic or household creatures, be they poultry, tame finches, domestic cats, or pet squirrels. These contribute liveliness to an otherwise inert spread of game and produce.

 

Nature’s Plenitude: Game and Song Birds

The birds depicted in this still life are largely identifiable: left to right they are a male bullfinch, a partridge, a snipe, and a thrush; since mistle and song thrushes closely resemble each other, determining identity depends on physical examination and ornithological expertise.

 

Location or Setting

The physical context for a seignorial still life is an interior associated with cooking, but without kitchen accoutrements. When Snyders began to develop the seignorial still life, he did represent a kitchen with its diverse functions: the preparatory area, the area devoted to cooking; another for implements and so forth. Space was extensive; it accommodated the full range of a cuisine needs. As the idea for the seignorial still life took shape, Snyders recognized that he would have to concentrate the space and focus on the foodstuffs. Early examples of seignorial still lifes appear to have no rigid rational order. Snyders experimented with various arrangements until he resolved the problem by ca 1615-1618. Gathered from the seignory, the goods have been set down in preparation for sorting and cooking. (Among the great houses of Britain, Haddon Hall and Old Hardwick Hall, for example, still have intact areas where such goods were provisionally set out after being brought indoors from fields, orchards, kitchen gardens, poultry yards, and forests; fish captured alive were kept in cellar pools where they were safe from attack. Outdoor ponds were used but they required security from predators. Intact, too, are the ones at Haddon Hall. Together with the provisions are items that will be used for the formal display of the goods. The overall effect is informal and unplanned.

 

Depending on the motifs Snyders depicted, furnishings and architectural elements varied as this still-life genre evolved. For furnishings, table, table covers, chairs, and wine coolers are among the more common motifs; as for architecture, the gamut runs from a dark background with no distinguishing features to one that has depth and may include a large glazed window with shutters or one that is open revealing a landscape perspective or even a door.

 

The designation seignorial still life is not linked to the size of a picture; rather it is its contents, the motifs depicted, and what they signify socially and otherwise.

 

The Seignorial or Lordship Still Life: A Sign of the Times

Frans Snyders’s creative energies captured the moment when political and social factors were converging and undergoing significant changes; the legacy of feudalism had to be adapted to the rapidly developing characteristics of the early modern era. The past was not forgotten; indeed it was an historical part of the present; the older values and forms were engaged and fused into the new social order and culture.

 

The seignorial still life is an example of this convergence. Its conceptual foundation recalls feudalism, lordship or the seignorial, but, likewise, to the humanistically educated patricians, officials, and courtiers the seignorial still life recollected and even resembled ancient Graeco-Roman frescoes or mosaics wherein animals, dead and living, fruit, produce, bread and foodstuffs are depicted. (No official record exists of the discovery of xenion imagery, but that does not rule out the possibility that some images may have been encountered; certainly imagination itself could generate such images.)

 

Such pictures are discussed and described in two classical texts, well-known in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Vitruvius, said to be Julius Caesar’s architect, described guest gifts (xenia) given to an overnight visitor as a sign of hospitality in his treatise Ten Books on Architecture. (This is the only art-theoretical text that has survived complete from antiquity to the present day). Xenia were memorialized in paintings and mosaics: baskets of fruit or fish, vegetables and bread, and so forth were frequently represented in Roman villas in frescoes or floor mosaics. The custom was still practiced in the 4th century, as Philostratus the Younger (fl. 3rd century AD), attests in his book of descriptions of art; among the images described are two still lifes.

 

The French humanist diplomat Blaise de Vigenère (1523-1596) translated the Greek text into French; it was published posthumously in 1602, and again in 1614; the latter has illustrations designed by Antoine Caron (1521-1599). In the following year, 1615, Rubens acquired a copy. Among others who purchased it was Rubens’s learned friend Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc. De Vigenère retitled the “Xenia” chapters as “Rural Gifts” and “Holiday Gifts from the Village.” He explains why he made these emendations in annotations. (See Koslow, 1995, pp. 48-49). The motifs in the Caron illustrations are comparable to those that appear in Snyders’s work, but stylistically, they hark back to the Fontainebleau school. Given Snyders and Rubens’s close working relationship and their friendship, there is little doubt that Snyders was familiar with this text, and that it helped him realize his own innovational subject.

 

It should be stressed that the seignorial / lordship still life is a secular subject; rarely is a reference to Christological or Mariological beliefs present therein, as scholars have argued. Another erroneous explanatory approach is the view that Snyders’s still lifes allude to Vanitas themes, that is, to the brevity of life and its pleasures. These formulaic interpretative approaches to still life, popular in the twentieth century, have no basis in Snyders’s imagery. A bubble blown by a child is one of the popular Vanitas motifs; another a skull; a third, flowers dropping their petals, and finally, dew drops. Because none of these exist in Snyders’s still lifes, these interpretations are unjustified.

 

However, that Snyders’s seignorial still lifes do have readings that verge on moralization can be entertained. The very picture that is the subject of this essay is an example. One cannot fail to notice the separation between the fruit and the birds. Is this a plea for choosing to consume produce only and renounce meat? Vegetarianism was a diet favored by neo-Stoics (in word if not in deed). It certainly was on the minds of Rubens and Snyders, as the magnificent picture of Pythagorus Teaching, Royal Collection, Britain, demonstrates. Snyders painted the immense mound of produce; Rubens, the figures. This work remained in the master’s private collection; posthumously was it sold to the Spanish king Philip IV.

Although vegetarianism might not be the answer for the separation between game and fruit, another is medical. In 17th century medicine, diet was crucial for health. One that was balanced was essential for well-being. While the still life shows both types of food, what is remarkable is the balance advocated by the imagery. The four humors, fluids that all beings possess, were determined by physicians in individualized regimens that also included exercise. Only when the humors were balanced, in equilibrium, was a person’s health assured. Perhaps this particular still life represents this ideal.

 

Composition and Facture

This still life is organized with clarity and simplicity. Spatially, it consists of three planes or zones: a narrow foreground space between the picture plane and a red cloth-covered table or board that also parallels the picture’s plane. Its breadth comfortably supports a sturdy reed basket loaded with grapes, apples, and pears on the right, while on the left, small game birds and a few additional motifs are casually piled in a heap with no obvious order. Some motifs are close to the table’s edge; indeed, an artichoke and its leaves project beyond the table’s edge, appearing to break through the planar barrier into the actual space of the viewer.

 

On the far side of the table a wall lacking architectural features, such as windows, doors, or even bricks, is a neutral foil for the myriad details and brilliant hues of in the forefront; the wall’s functional identity, though indeterminate, does have important aesthetic qualities. Its scumbled improvisational facture of greenish-brown hues endow the atmospheric restlessness of a surface, that otherwise might be a potentially dull inert feature.

 

The wall is subdivided into two units; the left section is larger, an oblong, with visible overlapping parallel brush strokes; the right side, is a square; because it is darker, it appears to recede behind the basket. A vertical demarcates a division between them; its architectural identity unspecified.

 

For the arrangement of the entire design, the asymmetry of the back wall resonates throughout the composition. Despite their separate spatial zones, flesh and fruit, the two are connected, if not in fact then with an arch formed by curved vine branches and canopy-like leaves, fluttering as a breeze stirs them. Interestingly, the leaves are botanically inaccurate. Grape leaves generally have five lobes; these do not. They are not meant to be scientific representations; their function is purely aesthetic. Their hue accords with greens located throughout the composition, a felicitous solution created to invigorate an otherwise blank zone. It is surprising, however, that the backgound is so “unfinished.” Might Snyders have intended to paint over the current ground, not to obscure its vibrancy but to perhaps provide a more uniform, slightly darker background.

 

By ca 1615, Snyders had reached a new level of mastery. His earlier preference for dark tonalities associated with Caravaggism waned and ceased as his palette became increasingly luminous, vivid, and diverse. Color assumed a greater role; it charms the eye, inviting the viewer to enjoy Nature’s manifold appearances and the skills of human craft. Reds, browns, blues, greens, and yellow are the principal hues Snyders employed. Like a conductor, Snyders orchestrates this varied palette of warm and cool hues, ensuring that they coalesce harmoniously, despite their polarities.

 

It is important to recognize Snyders’s improvisational facture and seeming compositional informality. In this respect, he was far ahead of his time. In the decade wherein he developed the seignorial or lordship still life, he realized that his pictures could have greater vitality if he did not complete a motif within the picture’s borders. Decades later, in 1672, the Italian painter and theorist Giovan Pietro Bellori (1613-1696) discussed this compositional strategy in The Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors and Architects. A soldier at the side of a composition, as described by Bellori, is about to strike, but the entire act is not shown “and no more can be seen, for the edge of the painting cuts off the figure and ingenious art leaves to the imagination all that is lost to sight.” (Bellori, The Lives…, a new translation and critical edition, A. S. Wohl, H. Whole, T. Montari. Cambridge University Press, 2005; 2009, paperback edition, p.91).

 

In conclusion, Snyders attests to his brilliance as painter; no wonder Rubens, van Dyck, Jordaens, and other great painters of his day sought him out to join them in their work. His skill, ingenuity, inventiveness, and playfulness were appreciated by an extensive audience of the great and the learned. Too long has Frans Snyders been ignored; he is definitely one of the great painters of the southern Netherlands. Ignored far too long, an exhibition of his oeuvre is long overdue. The picture discussed in this essay deserves a time for a full appreciation of his work in a major exhibition.

 

 

 

 

Appendix I

Comments about the representation of birds.

A significant feature of this masterful still life is the diverse plumage of the birds; each is distinctive, even among species. Snyders appears to have forged a new path with regard to their representation. Almost invariably birds in early modern scientific texts and paintings are depicted in profile; Snyders did not follow this tradition. Based on the picture considered here, I posit that Snyders handled the creatures himself. Manipulating them taught him to understand their articulation, their unique features, and specific details. Where might Snyders have gained this experience? I believe that his family’s occupation as innkeepers and caterers gave him access to these birds, which were regionally accessible.

 

The absence of any studies in oil or other media is surprising. Perhaps the heads of birds inserted on the left in the Still Life are examples of studies that he may have carried out. (See figures, attached).

 

 

Appendix II

 

 

Still life with small game birds and a basket of fruit.

Oil on panel 20 x 28 in / 57 x 72 cm.

Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, inv. no. 119.

 

 

The Düsseldorf Still Life

According to Hella Robels (op. cit., pp. 250-252; no. 105, fig. 105), the Düsseldorf picture, which is neither signed nor dated, was painted ca 1612-1613, while the Green Still Life dates half a decade later, that is, 1618-1620. The basis for this opinion is its palette which she considers to be intense or “brilliant.”

 

Rather than concluding as Robels did that the Düsseldorf picture is first, I would suggest otherwise. Its compressed tight appearance is not a sign of “youth” but of a repetition that is based on a modello, pen, ink and wash drawing, Snyders’s preparatory step that he apparently used throughout his career, to the best of our knowledge, that surely preexisted the Green Gallery version.

 

But it is not only hue that changed; motifs differ too. To mention only a few: the foreground artichoke is not present; the wan-li bowl is positioned straight rather than tilted; the melon is spherical; and the wicker basket is “lumpier” and flatter. Its vertical struts are not sufficiently high for light to penetrate into the basket’s interior at its base. And an important design feature is lacking: vine branches that form an arch reaching out to the game birds and the porcelain bowl atop the birds.

 

Rather than concluding as Robels did that the Düsseldorf picture is earlier, I would suggest otherwise.

 

Düsseldorf Still Life

Museum Kunstpalast Dusseldorf, Inv. no 119

 

Support

Panel: Oak

No data in Robels concerning the panel’s obverse; likewise, the Düsseldorf Museum Kunst Palast Düsseldorf has not posted information on its website regarding this picture.

 

Dimensions:

57 x 72 cm.

1’8” x 2’4”

 

Literature

Greindl, 1983, p. 76; p. 377, no. 161; fig p. 290, no. 194. No commentary; however, it is grouped with works the author considers are similar (p. 76).

Robels, 1989, no. 105 (pp. 250-251).

 

Provenance:

Earliest notice: private collection, Berlin, 1883; 1938, in the collection of Eduard Plietzsch (specialist Dutch 17th century art; art advisor to Hitler.)

 

According to Robels, this picture predates the Green Gallery version; she suggested that it was painted 1612-1613 without citing reasons for this conclusion. This would place the work three or four years after Snyders’s return from Italy, an unlikely conjecture, as explained below.

 

Compare and Contrast:

Green Gallery and Düsseldorf Still Lifes

 

Comparison between the two pictures demonstrates that the Green picture is far superior in every respect: design, composition, execution, and more. The differences are too numerous to cite in full; here are a select few: the handle of the fruit basket in the Düsseldorf picture is distorted; it is pictured frontally, whereas it should be viewed from an angle; the tip of the snipe’s beak is inserted among the partridge’s wing feathers, as if it were penetrating them, but it is actually parting them to show the lower leaves of the artichoke. On the left, the bullfinch’s red body frames the bowl, and “sings” together with the berries. In the Düsseldorf picture the bullfinch does not possess emotive nuance; it is a horizontal “lump,” its head does not bend forwards in a pathos pose of “sorrow.”

The fruit basket in the Düsseldorf picture appears cramped, crushed and lacks both height and convincing circularity; it does not possess dimensionality. Note how the Green Gallery basket’s base exactly meets the edge of the table, whereas in the other version, the table top tilts upwards, creating spatial confusion. The most surprising distinction is found in the basket itself. Apples and pears are not present, and the bunches of grapes are a “hodge podge”; their hues and shapes are lacking coherent sequencing. Rather than creating unity and order with hue, tone and shape, these are disjointed. Their luminosity and aerial aspect encompassing them – they appear to radiate light from within rather than reflect external light – are suggestive of a considerably later date.

 

A break runs across the panel; it is visible in the black and white digital.

 

I believe that the Düssseldorf picture was painted some decades later than the Green Gallery’s picture; two distinct styles are merged, suggesting that this (Düsseldorf) is workshop and problematic.

 

 

Professor Susan Koslow, Professor Emerita of Art History, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York

Old MasterFrans Snyders