Rare, private collection of Old Master paintings makes exclusive appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg (Florida)
“A Feast for the Eyes: European Masterpieces from the Grasset Collection” offers a glimpse of life in the 1600s and 1700s, along with many hidden meanings, in an exhibition of 40 paintings.
From the museum:
The exhibition features 40 Old Master paintings by artists from the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Germany — including Jan Brueghel the Elder and Canaletto, represented below with an iconic view of Venice. The works span from 1600 to 1750. The collection is on loan from the Grasset family of Spain, whose patriarch, Juan Manuel Grasset, assembled this group of masterpieces over the last five decades.
The St. Petersburg exhibition is the last time the works are expected to be shown together.
This group of paintings has been exhibited publicly only once, at the San Diego Museum of
Art in 2016. This once-in-a-lifetime collection features some of the most beautiful still life, landscape, and banquet scenes of the “Golden Age.” The works reflect the growing power of the middle class in this time period, the impact of maritime trade, the desire to capture images of luxury and abundance in art, and the emergence of the art market, along with a number of subtle “hidden” symbolic meanings to be discovered.
The exhibition begins with exotic floral pieces that reflect with precision and detail the expanding trade and scientific curiosity that defined the era. This opulence is also displayed in the exhibition’s splendid banquet pieces, such as the magnificent “Still Life of Fruit and Olives” by Floris Claesz. van Dyck (1575–1651), featuring cheeses, wine, and exotic fruits in a precious Chinese porcelain bowl that had been brought over long, treacherous sea routes.
“A Feast for the Eyes” also includes seascapes celebrating maritime life and trade, most notably “The Grand Canal,” an exquisite vista of Venice, Italy, at its most glorious by Canaletto (1697–1768). (Many of the scenes like the one in “The Grand Canal” were painted as mementos for wealthy tourists.)
The exhibition also features a number of fascinating genre scenes, such as the piece that beautifully evokes day-to-day life centuries ago titled “Winter Landscape with Elegant Skaters” (1616) by Esaias van den Velde (1587–1630).
As for “hidden” symbolic meanings, discerning visitors will spot such touches as a mouse and dead songbirds in “Still Life of Grapes and Peaches on a Porcelain Bowl” by Peter Binoit (1590–1632), symbolizing how wealth and success can be fleeting.
And in a work by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625), “A Wooded River Landscape, with a Fish Market and Fishing Boats” (1610), a windmill in the distance has several meanings, symbolizing power and prosperity but also as a reference to religion and the crucifixion.
“We are enormously grateful to the Grasset family for their generosity in sharing their private collection,” said Kristen A. Shepherd, Executive Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. “This exhibition is truly a gift — in particular, a gift to young people in our community whose first impression of so-called ‘Old Masters’ will be these delightfully fresh and lively masterpieces. The Grasset Collection also gives our visitors the opportunity to study and appreciate masterworks rarely seen.”
“A Feast for the Eyes” is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg (Florida),
through July 28, 2019, and will not travel to other venues.