Information from the museum, 29 March 2011
In autumn/winter of 2011/12, the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe will realize an ambitious project: the first exhibition ever to feature the full range of game and animal still life paintings from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The point of departure for this presentation will be paintings of dead animals from the museum’s collection, which can be traced back to the Margraves and Grand Dukes of Baden, and which includes masterworks by Jan Fyt, Willem van Aelst, Jan Weenix, Nicolas de Largillierre, Alexandre-François Desportes, Jean Siméon Chardin, and others.
Supplemented by loans from major European museums and private collections, the exhibition will embed works from the permanent collection into a larger context. All exhibited works will be published in a catalogue and accompanied by scholarly treatments designed to illuminate them from the perspectives of
art and cultural history.
The first autonomous depictions of bagged game animals date from the Renaissance, and were commissioned by enthusiastic princely devotees of hunting. To decorate his hunting lodges, for example, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, commissioned works featuring game birds from Lucas Cranach, his court painter. These painted trophies were testimonials to their owner’s
success in the hunt. A series of preparatory watercolors, with their precise rendering of natural forms, testify to Cranach’s fascination with these creatures, their beauty undiminished even in death.
Following the precedent set by pioneers like Cranach, the game still-life developed in the late 16th century into an independent genre, one which experienced its initial efflorescence in Flanders before being taken up and varied in striking ways by Dutch artists during the “golden” 17th-century.
One focus of the exhibition will be on artists from the Southern and Northern Netherlands. Also included will be French 18th-century painting, the international breakthrough to modernity around 1800, and the animal still lifes of Realist, Impressionist, and Expressionist artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The presentation will highlight the transformation and redefinition of traditional or established pictorial motifs. Also illuminated will be interrelationships and affinities spanning centuries:
Courbet, for example, revered the naturalistic style and grandiose compositions of Jan Weenix, while Manet, Monet, and Bonnard measured their own still lifes against those of their great idol Chardin. With his unsettling paintings, Soutine alluded to the works of Goya. For the two last-named artists, images of creatures who had met violent deaths served as metaphors for
human suffering and mortality. But the genre of the game still life represented a challenge to master painters in ways that transcend symbolism. Whether naturalistic, illusionistic, or freely expressive, such works are always occasions for displays of painterly virtuosity.