Taking the fish to market: A late Sixteenth Century panel painting at Christie’s South Kensington.

Today is the beginning of the Maastricht Art Fair, truly one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever been, where the whole art world comes together in one medieval town to see the very best that dealers have to offer.

If the exhibitors are feeling light on stock afterwards – as we hope they will be – our newly-discovered and conserved Fish-Market is coming up at Christie’s South Kensington on March 29th lot 10.

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To quote Christie’s superb catalogue essay

The present composition is known in twelve other versions, of which several are autograph works by Beuckelaer. They were painted during the tumultuous times of the Iconoclasm (1566), which disrupted the art market and motivated a change from purely religious to more secular themes. Here the flourishing fish industry is celebrated through the display of the great bounty from the sea. Such pictures also increasingly embraced a moralizing subtext, warning against the excesses of food and sexual pleasures, a theme that is intimated here. The scene is set in a market stall with architectural features, incorporating a biblical episode in the background. In this case, The Miraculous Draft of Fish can be seen through the archway on the upper left part of the composition. The masterfully composed view of a daily fish market invites the viewer to examine closely the rich products on offer. The fishmonger gazes out at the viewer directly with a collusive expression, holding the salmon fillet in a suggestive manner. Paintings such as this one remained popular through the end of the seventeenth-century and were hung specifically in kitchen and dining room settings.

We hope that bringing the painting to sale will let our panel take its place in the interesting scholarly discussion surrounding the known versions of this composition. Ours is remarkable for the pentiment around the brass bowl beside the lady, where the handle has been moved from left to right. Dendrochronology suggests an earliest painting date of c.1596, like the version on loan to the Bonnefantenmuseum at Maastricht. My personal thought is that both ours, the Maastricht painting and perhaps other known examples, are by the same artist and his studio – a painter whom I call ‘Beuckelaer the younger’ – and that ours may be the prime of this group. The painting of the fish is a masterpiece, and the whole thing is a real rumbustious slice of market life.

I wish all the exhibitors the very best of luck at the Fair.

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