DescriptionJACOB VAN HULSDONCK (Flemish 1582 - 1647)
Still Life with Fruit, circa 1620-25
Oil on oak panel
7-7/8 x 12-7/8in.
Signed at lower left on table edge, IVHULSDOCK FE (IVH connected)
Numbered at lower right in red paint, 352
With art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam, 1933;
With Kunsthandel de Boer, Amsterdam, 1934-35;
Collection of Mrs. Lillian Henkel Haass (1879-1969, Mrs. Julius H. Haass), Detroit, Michigan, circa 1935 - 1947;
Newhouse Galleries, New York, NY;
Mr. and Mrs. F. Howard Walsh, Fort Worth, Texas;
Walsh Family Art Trust
"Het Stilleven," Kunsthandel J. Goudstikker NV, Amsterdam, February 18 through March 8, 1933, no. 152 (label verso);
"Jongere Brueghels," Kunsthandel De Boer, Amsterdam, February 10 through April 5, 1934, no. 288 (label verso);
"Die jüngeren Brueghel und ihr Kreis," Palais Pallavicini, Vienna (organized by Kunsthandel De Boer and Galerie Sanct Lucas,Vienna), March-April 1935, no. 102 (ill.).
Ingvar Bergström, Studier I holländskt stillbenmåleri under 1600-talet. Göteborg, 1947, p. 94, fig. 73 ill. (black and white as collection of Mrs. L. Henkel Haass), and in the 1956 English edition, London, 1959.
Little is known about the life of Jacob van Hulsdonck, the Flemish author of this beautiful still life featuring a blue and white porcelain bowl filled with fruit in the center of a plain wooden table. Although he was born in Antwerp, Hulsdonck was apparently raised in Middelburg, the southwestern Dutch town where Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621) and his circle pioneered the genre of pure still life painting in Holland. Because his work shows such a strong debt to Bosschaert, it is widely assumed that Hulsdonck trained in his studio. By 1608, Hulsdonck was back in Antwerp, and was registered in the Guild of St. Luke as a master painter. He married the following year and moved into the house where he lived and kept a prosperous studio, painting a restricted choice of still-life subjects (fruit, flowers, and banquets) for the next 38 years until his death. From 1613 to 1623, four apprentices who never achieved Hulsdonck's level of prominence trained with him: Jacob le Moort, Hans van Pelt, Thomas Vermeulen, and Gilliam van Schoodt. His son Gillis (c. 1625- 1669) also became a still-life painter of some note.
Throughout the forty years of his professional painting career, Hulsdonck remained loyal to Bosschaert's subjects and meticulous style, though fruit became a favorite motif and he developed a distinctive compositional preference. Hulsdonck usually allowed a single, centrally-placed basket or bowl of fruit to dominate his strongly symmetrical designs, as it does in the present work. Sometimes he flanked that motif with a small vase of flowers, but usually lined up individual pieces of fruit, stems, leaves, nuts, and insects along the front of the main motif close to the edge of the table (known in Dutch as bijwerk). His work, however, did go through gradual shifts and refinements which allow us to establish a chronology for an oeuvre which contains only one known dated picture (1614, a banquet-piece in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, England). Generally speaking, Hulsdonck's early still lifes (1610s-1620s) assume a fairly high vantage point on their subjects. Tabletops are titled up to show to optimal advantage all the fruits, berries, and other delicacies contained within the decorative bowls and brimming serving plates. In his early works, the tonal contrasts are sharper between foreground and background (the background is quite dark); the colors in the palette are deeper; and the edge of the table tends to be close to the lower end of the picture plane. In the later work (roughly 1630-47), the vantage point is lower so that the bowls and plates appear as tighter (foreshortened) ellipses, and less of the food they contain is visible; there is more space under the table and the left side of the table is often shown; both the background and palette are somewhat brighter; and compositions possess a greater sense of rhythm and deeper three dimensional space, qualities that have affinities with the work of fellow Antwerp painter Frans Snyders.
With its deep and saturated jewel-tone colors, dark background, and a table edge very close to the bottom of the panel, the present painting qualifies as an early work by Hulsdonck. However, since the vantage point is noticeably lower than in most early works (cf. Bowes Museum painting of 1614 or Still life with lemons, oranges, and a pomegranate, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), but higher than in the later paintings (cf. Basket of grapes and other fruit, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), it should be assigned a date of circa 1620-25, closer to his middle period of production.
The nearly iconic spareness of Hulsdonck's aesthetic provided the perfect means for showcasing his mastery of the interplay of vivid color and differentiated texture, a skill that has only seldom been surpassed by other artists. In the present work, he paired, as he often did, the velvety yellow skins of apricots with the polished coats of intensely blue plums, a color combination used to tremendous advantage by Willem Kalf and Jan Vermeer later in the century. Hulsdonck rarely resisted the opportunity to render tiny dewdrops on the surface of his wooden tables, as he did in the present work, or to place a fly somewhere on the summit of a rounded form as if to say, "I can go one better!" The present painting contains a marvelous instance of Hulsdonck's mastery of illusionistic tricks. Because he painted wood on a piece of wood, he allowed the grain of the oak panel to show through in the thinly painted shadow cast on the table beneath the large apple (quince?) in the foreground. He cleverly used the grain that was already there.
Works by Jacob van Hulsdonck are quite rare. His known oeuvre numbers far fewer than 100 works despite a long career, a fact that suggests his meticulous attention to detail restricted the number of paintings he was able to produce.
At the time the Swedish art historian Ingvar Bergström published his ground-breaking study of Dutch still-life painting in 1947, this fruit piece by Jacob van Hulsdonck was in the collection of Mrs. Lillian Henkel Haass (1879-1961) of Detroit, Michigan. Together with her banker husband, Julius H. Haass (1856-1931), Lillian Haass became a major early supporter of the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) during William R. Valentiner's directorship (1925-1945). Prior to coming to Detroit, Valentiner, a noted scholar of Dutch art, had worked on the mammoth provenance project of the inveterate cataloguer, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot in The Hague, and as assistant to Dr. Wilhelm Bode, the legendary director general of the Prussian State Art Collections in Berlin and the doyen of Rembrandt studies. He had wide-ranging interests and was a skillful cultivator of private collectors, a fact borne out in his ability to convince the Haasses to purchase Jacob van Ruisdael's imposing Jewish Cemetery for the museum's collection in 1926, as well as other important works. As George Keyes has noted in his introduction to the DIA's new catalogue of Dutch paintings (2004), "Haass's gift of the Jewish Cemetery poignantly served a special family need as a gift in memory of [Julius's] late brother, Dr. Ernest W. Haass." After her husband died in 1931, Lillian Haass continued collecting for herself and donating to the museum a range of works including Egyptian sculpture, medieval stained glass, International Gothic sculpture, and Aelbert Cuyp's moody Landscape with the Ruins of Rijnburg Abbey, a painting the couple had purchased together in Berlin in 1930, which she then gave in memory of her husband in 1933. It is highly probable that this work by Hulsdonck was a purchase Lillian Haass made in Europe in 1934 or shortly afterwards upon the advice of Valentiner. Her correspondence and papers dating from the years 1925 to 1960 are preserved in the Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C. (microfilm roll 880).
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