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Still life with basket of shells, a plate with fruits and insects
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About the item

This recently rediscovered panel is a particularly refined example of Balthasar van der Asts mature period and highly distinctive still life compositions. Although renowned as a painter of shells and frequently devoted paintings to their representation, here they are particularly featured elements of the composition. Here he has placed a variety of examples along the stone ledge, so as to display his dexterity in representing a multitude of surfaces and materials. From left to right along the stone ledge: a Cypraea tigris, a Banded marble cone, a Haustellum haustellum and three other cone shell varieties. In the straw basket just above is a Lambis lambis with other conical shells. They are placed alongside a variety of fruits which sit in a blue and white Chinese Wanli porcelain bowl. Van der Ast has taken the greatest care to depict the surface and texture of all the fruits, delighting particularly in the rendition of the bruises and other blemishes of the less ripe fruit. At opposite ends of the composition are a lizard and dragonfly. These classic additions seem to balance the composition, serving as appropriate counterbalances in this carefully orchestrated, yet seemingly casual arrangement.  Although commonplace today, such shells were great rarities in the 17th century and were extremely expensive. Like tulips, they became the subject of intense commercial speculation, and victims of this indulgence were mocked as 'shelpenzotten' or 'shell fools'. Consequently shells, like flowers, came to be seen as emblems of vanitas.  Segal has argued that the shells in Van der Ast's paintings were indeed intended as vanitas symbols.1  This understanding would have been reinforced to the viewer by the juxtaposition of such elements of transience and worldliness, such as the decaying fruit. While it is not clear that such a meaning was intended by this picture, its intimate character certainly meets the contemplative requirements of the vanitas subject. Too few of Van der Ast's paintings are dated to enable us to construct a chronology for small-scale works such as this. Securely dated examples range only from 1617 to 1628.\nFred Meijer, to whom we are grateful for endorsing the attribution, has suggested a dating to the late 1630's.\n1. S. Segal, A Prosperous Past,  the Sumptuous Still-Life in the Netherlands 1600-1700, The Hague 1988, pp. 88-89.\nSigned lower left: B.van der.Ast
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil on panel

creator

Ast, Balthasar

condition

The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work is very dirty, but it seems to be in beautiful condition. The panel is a single piece of wood, which has received three vertical wooden reinforcements on the reverse and a thin framework around the sides. These reinforcements seem to be effective and should remain. When the painting is cleaned, a significant change in palette and texture to the paint layer will occur. Although these pictures tend to become thin in the darker colors, this painting seems to be healthy throughout, with no abrasion or weakness to the objects in the still life or in the background. Under ultraviolet light, no retouches are visible except for a couple of spots to scratches in the varnish. There is a restoration which is slightly visible to the naked eye in the yellow pear in the center of the arrangement. The work should be properly cleaned and restored. "This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

dimensions

15 1/2  by 23 5/8  in.; 39.5 by 60 cm.

provenance

In the collection of the family of the present owners since at least circa 1900.

signedDate

Signed lower left: B.van der.Ast

artist_range_end

1657

artist_range_start

1593

consignmentDesignation

Property from a Private European Collection

creator_nationality_dates

Middelburg 1593/94 - 1657 Delft


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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