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Adriaen van Ostade, An Alchemist

Key facts
Full title An Alchemist
Artist Adriaen van Ostade
Artist dates 1610 - 1685
Date made 1661
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 34 × 45.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG846
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
An Alchemist
Adriaen van Ostade

A man stoops over a fireplace, using bellows to stoke the fire that heats the contents of a pot standing in the flames. He is an alchemist in the process of trying to turn base metals into silver or gold. His shabby and chaotic surroundings suggest that he is so obsessed with his work that he has neglected his other responsibilities, as well as squandering his possessions away. The loose, sketchy brushstrokes the artist has used to depict some of the items strewn on the floor, such as the dirty rags and straw, emphasise the disorder of the room.

The man’s family appear in the shadowy background: two young children entertain themselves while their mother wipes the bottom of the baby on her knee. The alchemist pays them no attention as he hunches over the fire, his eyes fixed on the task in front of him.

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