The Art Institute of Chicago is pleased to announce the acquisition of two new Dutch paintings: Breakfast Still Life (1647) by Willem Claesz. Heda and Alpheus and Arethusa (1626) by Moyses van Uyttenbroeck. Both paintings are the first works by the artists to enter into the collection of the department of Painting and Sculpture of Europe.
Breakfast Still Life shows Heda at his most compositionally complex. The artist establishes a network of horizontals and verticals, anchoring the stacked pewter plates amidst the salt cellar, façon de Venise glass, and berkemeier in a golden bekerschroef at the center of the composition. He unites this axial arrangement through the overturned silver ewer, which obliquely connects the fore- and background. Furthermore, the painter’s dazzling ability to distinguish materiality—from the smooth, curving silver cellar to the bumpy exterior of the opalescent oyster shells to the heavy folds of the pressed white cloth, particularly using a limited palette of silvers, grays, and browns—reveals a highly skilled hand. Equally impressive is his ability to play with space: the pewter plates hanging dangerously off the edge of the table achieve a visual tension that is much less contrived than in earlier breakfast still lifes.
Emanating an arcadian lushness, Alpheus and Arethusa by Van Uyttenbroeck showcases the great strengths of the generation of history painters working in Holland in the first third of the century: narrative clarity achieved through lucid gestures and poses, and a lush, Italianate landscape environment. The story of Alpheus and Arethusa comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (5: 572-641). The river god Alpheus menaces the bathing nymph Arethusa, causing her to flee the river and call upon the intervention of the goddess Diana. Diana responds by turning her into a subterranean stream, thereby rewarding her virtue and saving her from further peril. The iconography of the fleeing nymph, lumbering river god, verdant landscape, and pile of clothing aligns with other versions of the subject attributed to Van Uyttenbroeck.
These two paintings are the bequest of Donald and Carol Asher, longtime supporters of the department of Painting and Sculpture of Europe. Their contributions to departmental purchases and gallery renovations over more than two decades helped to elevate the presentation of the Northern European collection at the Art Institute. This gift celebrates their unfailing commitment to the museum.