This month, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, mounts “Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst.” The landmark compilation of 28 pivotal van Aelst (1627 – 1683) canvases reveals an evolving virtuoso who dramatically impacted late-17th-century still-life painting. Show curators James Clifton, Arthur Wheelock and Tanya Paul explore how the Dutch artist’s sojourns to Paris and Florence (the Medici court, no less) early in life played a significant role in the tightening and refining of his work. During these years abroad, van Aelst learned to discern the interests of his patrons and edit his subject matter accordingly. The sheer proportions of his resulting tableaux of luxury and sophistication are disarming. Through the use of lavish pigments such as ultramarine and a meticulous technique, van Aelst instilled in his art an intrinsic sense of value: His sumptuous depictions of the hunt and luxuriously set tables, voluminous draperies and sparkling Venetian glassware — invariably rendered with saturated jewel tones — were perfectly tailored to his elite clientele. Can’t get enough of these technically brilliant works? Pick up the book that shares the exhibition’s name — the first-ever monograph dedicated to van Aelst’s paintings, published by Skira Rizzoli in conjunction with the MFAH. Through May 28, at the MFAH’s Beck Building, 5601 Main St., 713.639.7300; mfah.org.
IMAGE: Willem van Aelst’s Hunt Still Life with a Velvet Bag on a Marble Ledge, circa 1665, at MFAH. Photo courtesy Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston.