CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Vis vitalis: stillevens in de Nederlanden, 1550-1700

Fish: still lifes by Dutch and Flemish masters, 1550-1700 Exhibition: 7 February - 9 May 2004


Liesbeth Helmus*

From the museum website

From 7 February until 9 May 2004 the Centraal Museum will host VIS VITALIS, a broad programme that will explore the ways that fish has nourished and inspired artists. In a country that for centuries has battled against and for water, fish has played an important role: fish as a commodity but also as a symbol of life in and around water. The Latin phrase VIS VITALIS means ‘life force’ in which the word ‘vis’ (or fish) stands for force. In the Centraal Museum it is this force that will provide a lively programme of exhibitions. VIS VITALIS is a programme with unique fish still lifes by Netherlandish masters, but also antiquarian books about fish, fishes in aquariums, a series of Sunday afternoon lectures and films about fish and fishing.

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.


Liesbeth M. Helmus*, with contributions by Eddy de Jongh, Piet Martens, Fred Meijer, Lex Raat, Carel Richter, Johanna Maria van Winter, Vis: stillevens van hollandse en vlaamse meesters, 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, Fish: still lifes by Dutch and Flemish masters 1550-1700, hardbound)

Other venue

Amos Anderson Museum of Art, Helsinki (26 May-8 August 2004)