From the museum press release, 5 September 2011
The approximately 40 striking paintings in this exhibition are rich in the history of sixteenth and seventeenth-century northern Europe. The works encompass biblical stories, mythological subjects, stunning portraits, scenes from everyday life, seascapes and landscapes, and still lifes.
The Gilberts, who developed this exceptional collection over more than 35 years, were attracted to these paintings, in part, because so many explore biblical stories. Abraham Bloemaert’s Cain and Abel (about 1588-1592) is both violent and dramatic. In contrast, Paulus Potter’s God Appearing to Abraham at Sichem (1642) has a rustic, harmonious calm and captures a moment of divine revelation, a promise to the Jewish people.
These marvelous paintings reveal cultures ascending, becoming more literate and interested in the arts, trying to establish a new Eden. The Gilberts once wrote: “It was fascinating to see the attitudes, values, and ideals of that society come alive to us through this medium.”
The religious paintings also capture beliefs in transition—from the Roman Catholic tradition to the Protestant Reformation. The New Testament scenes range from a Madonna and Child (about 1530) to Leonaert Bramer’s Christ among the Doctors.
Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt’s Double Portrait of a Husband and Wife with Tulip, Bulb, and Shells (1609) is the most recent addition to The Gilbert Collection and one of its most moving portraits. It suggests both love and loss in a gentle manner. The contrasts of limited color and their effect in Frans Hals’ Portrait of a Woman in a White Ruff are remarkable. The skin tones and her red cheeks emerge from the dominant black-and-white. Her rather weary, melancholy expression makes the painting even more affecting.
A number of the works celebrate the common pleasures of life—eating and drinking, sensuality, even the sheer beauty of objects. Jan Davidz. de Heem’s Still Life with a Silver Pitcher (about 1632) is, in part, a vanitas. It suggests that earthly delights and riches are transitory, but it also points to increasing affluence and an appreciation for culture and the decorative arts.
Many important artists are represented, in addition to those already mentioned. They include Frans Francken the Younger, Jan van Goyen, Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Karel van Mander, Aert van der Neer, Jan Steen, and Hendrick van Vliet.
This collection has been a labor of love, a tribute to an extraordinary partnership. Adele Gilbert, who recently passed away, initiated the collection when she encouraged her husband to join her for an art history class at what is now St. Petersburg College in the early 1970s.
They both fell under the spell of Dutch and Flemish paintings and involved their children in their pursuit. The entire family made trips to the Netherlands to visit great museums, to explore the towns where their favorite artists worked, and to experience the settings they depicted.
“We are fortunate that Dr. Gordon and Adele Gilbert have been members of the Museum family for many years,” said Director Kent Lydecker. “They have donated paintings to the collection and have lent works to be shown. Dr. Gilbert is a dedicated trustee and chairs the Accessions Committee. Story and Symbol is a tribute to a very accomplished and generous couple, as well as an exquisite exhibition to be enjoyed by everyone.”