Oil on panel. Master of kittens, Antwerp, mid 17th century.
An Amazon parrot sitting atop a rich pile of victuals is about to fly away. No doubt he felt the threat of this kitten who would make his next meal! From an overturned basket overflows an abundant farandole of fruits, among which these grapes which certainly aroused the curiosity of the beautiful bird. The roundness of each grape, materialized by delicate luminous highlights, is for the bird so many promises of a delicious nectar. On either side of the basket, other delicacies are arranged in Delft earthenware bowls whose preciousness contrasts with the rusticity of the basket from which vine leaves escape. Under one of the bowls rests an imposing wheel of gouda cheese, reminding us that we are in the Netherlands. Behind it, a fine flute of red wine offers a welcome colorimetric contrast to which the red fruits on the other side of the table respond symmetrically. A blue tablecloth delicately laid over it acts as a horizon line for this show of abundance. The contrast in brightness between the cat and the parrot divides the scene along an oblique axis, reinforcing the tension that emanates from the composition.
This still life is the work of a painter identified by art historians as the "Master of the kittens" and listed in the RKD as number 51343. By cross-referencing several paintings with strong similarities, the first of which is a black and white kitten, all experts agree that these are the works of the same artist whose identity remains to be discovered.
The presence of the kitten, combined with that of the parrot, animates the composition in the same way that Flemish Baroque artists such as Paul de Vos, who introduced boisterous animals into the pantry, liked to do. Indeed, the publication of zoological works by Renaissance humanists allowed northern artists to represent realistic animals to decorate their compositions. In this case, the parrot in our composition, represented on the verge of flying away, its wings half spread, proves that our painter was a fine observer of nature. The representation of psittacines in Dutch painting is reminiscent of their success in the colonial trade.
If this Antwerp school of still life painting is often opposed to that of the Northern Netherlands, our artist does not completely break with the Dutch style. Indeed, he deploys a science of composition where the number of objects remains limited compared to the avalanche of victuals present in the works of his Flemish contemporaries. A careful selection of objects allows him to contrast complementary colors: the green of the parrot, grapes and vine leaves on the one hand, and the red of wine and fruit on the other. The yellow of the dairy products, the bread and the fruits as well as the whites of the dishes enliven the whole. These fiery tones give the painting a variegated aspect, which is reinforced by the blue of the tablecloth and the marbled coat of the kitten. Thus, the clarity and legibility of his composition brings him closer to the Haarlem painters of the mid-seventeenth century, such as Floris van Schooten, from whom he borrows the light backgrounds and the recurring motif of the streaked lump of butter placed in a porcelain cup. This work can therefore be said to be a synthesis of the still life painting traditions of Flanders and Holland.
Our painting is unique in its corpus because of the life that emanates from it, as opposed to his other works where small dead game systematically appears.
We have chosen to present this large painting in a natural wood frame carved with foliage.
Dimensions : 55 x 120 cm - 73 x 138,5 cm with the frame
- Sale J. Fievez, Brussels of June 20, 1928 lot n°1 as Alexander Adriaensen.
- German private collection.
- FOUCART-WALTER, Élisabeth, The cat and the palette...: the cat in Western painting from the 15th to the 20th century, Paris: Adam Biro, 1987.
- GREINDL, Edith, Les peintres flamands de nature morte au XVIIe siècle, Sterrebeek, Editions d'Art Michel Lefebvre, 1983.
- L'Odyssée des animaux...: les peintres animaliers flamands du XVIIe siècle, Sandrine Vézilier, (Cat. Exp. Musée de Flandre, Cassel from 8 October 2016 to 22 January 2017), Editions Snoeck, 2016.
- WILLIGEN, Adriaan van der, MEIJER, Fred G., A Dictionary of Dutch and Flemish Still-Life Painters Working in Oils: 1525-1725, Leiden, Primavera press, 2003.
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