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Wybrand Hendriks has piled up his bouquet of fruit and flowers against a soft, green background of woodland trees, till it tips sideways and tumbles down the canvas on a steep diagonal, ending in the forms of the two dead birds. They are snipe, game birds to be eaten. An exotic pineapple sits at the top of the arrangement, its weight appearing to have caused the mini avalanche. It’s a multisensory painting and evokes the taste, touch and smell as much as the sight of so much abundance.
Hendriks was an exceptionally versatile artist, producing portraits, landscapes, genre scenes and still-life paintings. He had trained in a workshop that supplied decorative wall paintings for the elegant homes of wealthy art lovers. He was for several years curator of the art collection at the Teylers Stichting, Haarlem (now Teylers Museum).
Although Hendriks includes some simple, domestic flowers and fruit – bindweed, Sweet William, peony, an apple, a walnut and rosehips – he concentrates on the exotic. As well as the rare and expensive pineapple, grapes, peaches and a pomegranate crowd together; a melon squeezes into the wicker basket that contains the arrangement. It seems to suggest that it is man’s ingenuity as much as nature that is celebrated in the picture: in Europe, most of the fruits could only be grown in a glasshouse. And as a glasshouse and skilled gardeners would only be found in the home of a prosperous person, perhaps wealth is celebrated too.
Hendriks’s own skill was in reproducing the many textures – of leaves, petals, fruit and feathers – presented in the picture. The leaves alone seem to present a multitude of greens. Some are fresh, as if a breeze still blows them; some curl, tinged with pink, while others have nibbled edges. The succulent pineapple spikes top it all like a crown. The velvety skin of a peach contrasts with the hard, ridged melon rind, and the snipes‘ downy feathers with the cool, marble shelf on which they lay; the glow of the green grapes compares with the misty film on the purple. Two butterflies – a red admiral and a six spot burnet – are featured, perhaps to show Hendriks’s knowledge of these creatures, perhaps because such knowledge was fashionable among collectors. An earwig, an ant and a fly are hidden away, to be found with patient looking.
Not all the fruit is edible – some of the grapes in particular are past their prime. But this wouldn’t have been a bar to enjoyment of the picture when it was painted. In the days before refrigeration fruit didn't have to be perfect to be eaten. A hundred years before this painting, artists sometimes used dying fruit and flowers and short-lived insects as symbols of the brevity of life, but in the eighteenth century such a concept was less commonly used. It’s likely that Hendriks was simply painting what he saw, perhaps as an allegory of luxury but not as a moral lesson.
Hendriks was an exceptionally versatile artist, producing portraits, landscapes, genre scenes and still-life paintings. He had trained in a workshop that supplied decorative wall paintings for the elegant homes of wealthy art lovers. He was for several years curator of the art collection at the Teylers Stichting, Haarlem (now Teylers Museum). In this still life, Hendriks painted in the manner of Jan van Os, his contemporary, whose work is also represented in the National Gallery’s Fruit and Flowers in a Terracotta Vase and Fruit, Flowers and a Fish.
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