Willem van Aelst was a very well known still-life painter. However,
unlike other painters in this category who remained painting one type of
still-life such as flowers or birds, Willem painted with a wide variety of objects such as:
This style of painting was highly popular in the mid-1600s. The
popularity was influenced by Willem's paintings that were highly sought after
and sold for abnormally high prices. However, he was more than an artist,
he was also an art instructor with pupils such as Rachel Ruysch, and Maria van Oosterwyck.
Willem van Aelst was born in 1626 in Delft, Holland. His uncle, Evert
van Aelst, was his art teacher. His father was the notary for the city of
Delft. This leads us to believe that Willem's family was quite wealthy.
In November of 1643, Willem joined the Saint Luke's Guild. There is
very little information about his personal life except for the fact that he was catholic.
Willem moved to France in 1645, where he lived until 1649, and then he
traveled throughout Italy until the mid-1650s.
Willem obtained work as an assistant to Otto Marseus van Schrieck while he
was in Florence. Otto, at that time, had several commissions for paintings
from Ferdinand II de Medici, who was the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Willem
earned several gold medals and gold chains as awards for his service while he
was Otto's assistant.
In 1656, Willem and Otto returned to Delft for a short time and moved to
Amsterdam in 1657. He remained in Amsterdam for the rest of his life
because he considered it to be the most beautiful place in the world.
History tells us that Willem was married in Amsterdam sometime after 1657 and
had three children, but I was unable to find their names during my research.
Willem gained fame for his elaborate use of silver goblets,
fresh colorful fruits and flowers, and fine crystal glassware in his still-life paintings. His
works are uniquely characterized by the use of bright colors and realistic
looking textures. He used crisply outlined shapes and vibrant contrasting
colors in many of his works. The influence that Amsterdam had on his works
is clear in his paintings such as "Still-life with Flowers and a Watch", which
depicts a vase that was made by Johannes Lutma (a silversmith from Amsterdam),
and his work titled "Still-life with Flowers in a Niche".
Willem used a combination of effects such as bright coloring, and beams of light in his flower paintings, and his asymmetrical floral arrangements began to
show up in paintings made by other artists. He gained fame for starting
this form of still-life.
Willem also gained fame for his still-lifes that depicted hunters and the game they pursued. Over 60 of these paintings survive to this day.
If you were to compare one of Willem's first paintings of this genre with one of
his later works such as "Still-life with Dead Cocks", you would see that this
formula was successful early in his career and maintained its success almost
unchanged for over 30 years.
Many of his paintings show a marble table top that is adorned with hunting
accessories and the dead birds from that day's hunt, along with a bird that is
hanging down over the table, which provides a vertical element in the painting.
Common hunting items were usually included in his still-lifes that portrayed
hunting, such as:
- quail pipes
- bird net
- falcon's hoods
- game bag
- hunting horn
Although he used these items in several of his paintings, Willem's skillful
style made each painting unique.
Willem began using several unusual signatures on his paintings.
Guillermo van Aelst was the signature he used to recall his stay in Italy.
He also used the signature Vogelverschrikker, on paintings such as,
"Still-life with Poultry".
He taught art throughout his career to students such as Rachel Ruysch, and
Maria van Oosterwyck. Willem courted Maria, however, she had stipulations
to him courting her that stated that he had to quit courting her for a year, and
paint in his own studio every day for ten hours a day before they could be
married. He was unsuccessful in this courtship and the romance never blossomed.
Willem died in Amsterdam sometime after 1687. He was survived by his
wife and three children.
Many of Willem's paintings are on display in museums around the world, such
- Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France
- Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague
- Joconde Database of French Museum Collections
- Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio
- Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy
- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
- National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
You can view many of his beautiful works of art at:
Women And The Art World. 2nd ed. : Alpine Publishers, 1971.