CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Kalaa: Alankomaalaisia asetelmia 1550 –1700

Fish: still lifes from the Netherlands, 1550-1700 Exhibition: 26 May - 8 August 2004


Liesbeth Helmus* and Kai Kartio


Utrecht, Centraal Museum

From the website of the Centraal Museum

At the beginning of the seventeenth century the fish still life developed as an autonomous genre out of the kitchen and market scenes by artists such as Pieter Aertsen and Joachim de Beuckelaar. The work of Aertsen and Beuckelaer depicted lively fishmongers with religious scenes in the background. Since the beginning of the seventeenth century the fish has been extracted from these market scenes and we have seen the development of the fish still life as a genre in its own right.

There are fish still lifes by approximately 60 painters from the Netherlands and Flanders. The composition and execution of these fish still lifes varies enormously. In addition to simple and meticulously painted panels by artists such as Clara Peeters, there are also large, exuberant canvases by Abraham van Beijeren and others. Jan Fyt placed his fishes on extremely costly silver dishes and combined them with garlands of flowers, while Pieter de Putter places his fish on a wooden bench with accompanying fishing tackle. There are paintings with freshly landed and prepared fish, fish on the beach and fish in the kitchen. You will also see paintings with overflowing fish markets and attractive portraits of fishmongers. In Fish: still lifes by Dutch and Flemish masters, 1550-1700 you will find a selection of 63 of the most beautiful and most important fish still lifes in the world.

From the website of the Amos Anderson Museum

The Amos Anderson Art Museum’s summer exhibition, FISH: Still Lifes from The Netherlands, 1550 –1700, sheds light on the origin and significance of the fish stilleben. Created in cooperation with the Utrecht Centraal Museum and Dutch art experts, this is the first exhibition of its kind in the world. After Holland it will only be shown in Finland.

What’s so interesting about fish? These aquatic creatures have a certain allurement. It is not just that they have always been fished, that they have been an irreplaceable part of our daily bread, but also that they have always been admired when portrayed. In the Golden Age of Dutch art, fish in all their forms were one of the central motifs chosen by artists. Nobody portrayed fish with such dedication as the Dutch still life masters of the 16th and 17th centuries. With the incredible forms and powerful colours of marine life, the light gleaming on the silver pike, the spiny leer of the bull rout, the portrayal of fish is one of the hardest tasks faced by a painter striving towards the most startling realism possible. Though mastery appeals, there is much more in fish still lifes; a strange enchantment, a grotesque fascination, a profusion of symbols. They show painting at its purest and most sublime.

Nevertheless still lifes of fish fell in oblivion – disregarded by art historians and strongly undervalued in the art trade. Based on a thorough art historical research FISH: Still Lifes from The Netherlands, 1550 –1700 is the first exhibition devoted to the subject, and thus facing the challenge to make this genre better known.

Some fifty paintings are being brought to Helsinki representing the finest in fish still lifes. The works come from museums and galleries in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Finland, Italy and Spain, as well as private collections throughout Europe. Also on exhibition are a number of rare books with fish illustration on loan from Antiquariaat Rare Fishbooks in Amsterdam.


Liesbeth M. Helmus*, with contributions by Eddy de Jongh, Piet Martens, Fred Meijer, Lex Raat, Carel Richter, Johanna Maria van Winter, Fish: still lifes by Dutch and Flemish masters 1550-1700, Utrecht (Centraal Museum) 2004, 446 pp., 24 x 17 cm.
ISBN 90-5983-004-0 (Dutch edition, hardbound)
ISBN 90-5983-005-9 (English edition, hardbound)

Other venue

Centraal Museum, Utrecht (7 February-9 May 2004)