Jacob van HULSDONCK
Table laid with cheese, herring and ham
Oil on panel, 72 × 104 cm
One of the most talented representatives of the first generation of Flemish still-life painters, Jacob van Hulsdonck was born in Antwerp in 1582 and worked there throughout his life. By 1608 he was a master-painter in Antwerp, where he lived in the same house from the time of his marriage in the following year until his death, thirty-eight years later. Hulsdonck was especially fond of depicting grapes, plums, apricots, cherries, lemons and sometimes pomegranates in various combinations. His mastery in rendering the softness and delicacy of the skins of the fruit and the difference of texture and colouring of their leaves has only rarely been surpassed by other artists.
Despite his long career, not many still lifes – as far as we know his only subject – by van Hulsdonck are known to us, far fewer than a hundred. More than half of van Hulsdonck’s known paintings are signed with his characteristic full signature in capitals, the I linked to the obliquely placed left leg of the H to make up the V and usually situated to the left or right on the table’s edge. Some examples are signed with a monogram only, and only one dated painting is known thus far, an example of his earliest type of still life, painted in 1614: a banquet-piece, now in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. In such early works, the table is partly covered with a white cloth; all of his later still lifes are set on plain wooden tables of which the grain of the wood is rendered with a high degree of detail. Occasionally these tables are partly covered with a dark (greyish- or greenish-black) cloth. Today Jacob van Hulsdonck’s works are preserved in the most important museums worldwide including: J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum Bredius, Netherlands.
In one of his publications the art historian Laurens J. Bol gave Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger the title “the Master of Flies” since the artist has bluebottle flies present in most of his still lifes. Hulsdonck could justly be bestowed with the same epithet. In his magnificent banquet-pieces, too, the bluebottles are often an eye-catching motif. Another frequent guest in his paintings is a maybug, as well as several species of butterflies. In virtually all of his works dew-drops are found – yet another testimony of van Hulsdonck’s mastery in conveying textures.
Still lifes of the 17th century contain symbols rendering a certain message. Hulsdonck’s iconography does not originate from the brighter side of life. The presence of insects where something is rotting, blemishes on fruit and holes gnawed in leaves remind us of decay and thus of temporalness in general. With such details the artist expressed a vanitas notion, the inevitability of changes around us.
Important private collection, Zürich, Switzerland
Chantal Humbert, “Faites bombance!”, La Gazette Drouot, (ill.), 2007; Art Rules, exhibition’s catalogue, Tallinn, June – October 2015, p. 82-83 (illustrated)
The Exhibition “Art Rules” organized by Art-Life Project in Tallinn Town Hall, 5 June 2015 – 5 October 2015, Estonia