An abundant display of fruit, vegetables, flowers and game birds is arranged across two levels, bridged by the partridge hanging from the barrel of a gun. Van Os has depicted all the different surface textures with exceptional skill, while the multilevel arrangement creates a dynamic flow within the composition.
The Dutch painter spent a large part of his career in Paris, where he worked for the famous Sèvres porcelain factory. He was celebrated for his magnificent still-life paintings that incorporated antique art objects – here, a Greek marble stela (memorial tablet) decorated with a carved bas-relief stands behind the piles of food. It depicts two followers of Bacchus, the ancient Greco-Roman god of wine; one is a satyr, a half-man, half-goat woodland creature.
The fruit, vegetables and hunted birds depicted all relate to autumn, as does the Bacchic theme. The painting may have been intended as an allegory of the season.
At the very bottom of the picture, a bronze relief shows two putti eating grapes. On this rests a marble slab, which serves as a support for the dense arrangement, packed with grapes, peaches, pomegranates, a lemon, flowers and leaves. There’s also a large pumpkin and two peppers, a detail typical of Georgius Jacobus Johannes van Os. He is known to have used decorative vegetables and many different types of flowers, some of which were rarely or never depicted by other flower painters.
An ancient Greek marble stela (memorial tablet) stands behind the piles of food. Lined up on its top are apricots, an orange and a dead snipe, while to the left a bunch of pink camellias, purple lilacs and other flowers push forward from the monochrome background. They create movement and provide a colourful contrast to the beige carved bas-relief that decorates the tablet and takes up a big part of the composition on the right. It shows two followers of Bacchus, the ancient Greco-Roman god of wine and festivity; one is human, the other is a satyr.
The allusion to the world of the ancient gods is typical of the period: there was a huge interest in antiquity at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Some of the antique objects that van Os used in his paintings have been identified, but it’s likely that he invented other examples and reused them. The unidentified bronze relief, which looks more like an Italian Renaissance work, reappears in several of the artist’s paintings, showing different scenes with putti engaged in a variety of activities. A similar still-life composition (now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) belonged to a series of paintings representing the four seasons, and is thought to be an allegory of autumn. The same may be true of the National Gallery’s work: the dead birds, the fruit, the vegetables and the Bacchic rites are all closely related to autumn and harvest.
Van Os, a native of Haarlem, came from a large family of painters. He was trained by his father, the successful still-life and marine painter Jan van Os (whose work is also represented in the National Gallery’s collection: Fruit and Flowers in a Terracotta Vase and Fruit, Flowers and a Fish). Susanne de la Croix, his mother, was a portrait painter; his brother Pieter Gerardus and his sister Margaretha were also painters, the latter specialising in flowers and hunting still-life pictures too. Van Os first travelled to Paris in 1812. After several stays he made the French capital his home in 1826, when he started working for the famous Sèvres porcelain factory. At the same time, his magnificent oil paintings were sought after by collectors and fetched high prices during his lifetime.
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