Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Feast for the Eyes

“A Feast for the Eyes” is an exhibition in St. Petersburg Florida that I stumbled across on line. I was at the Museum of Fine Arts there once before and through an exhibition there came back in touch with my first girl friend at age 12. But that, is another story:

The museum has a diverse permanent collection covering  European art, but it seems that they have latched on to a major cache of wonderful European Old Masters that fill many gaps from the Grasset Collection.  The Grasset family came to Spain from France in the 1850’s and their name is now pronounced Grassette. Juan Manuel Grasset, who is close to 93 years old started acquiring what is now a fine collection of Old Master in the 1960’s.

Unbeknownst, to the St. Petersburg Museum staff, his daughter, Christina, has been vacationing with her family in St. Petersburg for almost a decade. She recently got in touch, inquiring if the Museum would like to show the collection as they were looking for an institution where it would serve a real purpose. 

The exhibition certainly adds a whole new dimension to St. Petersburg’s holdings, being in the words of the Museum Director, Kirsten Shepherd, “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 exhibition features forty superb Old Master paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries by major Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch and Netherlandish artists, with an emphasis on the Low Countries. This is only the second time this collection has been shown publicly. It was at the San Diego Museum of Art in 2016.

An engineer by profession, Mr. Grasset was obviously a very dedicated and discerning collector to have been able to acquire so choice a group of Old Masters over the last half century. As museums gobble up collections there is less and less on the market. Still, there are deaccessions: Christies just announced that it was getting a group of works from a member of the Rothschild family. 

Here are some of the Grasset pictures that caught my eye.  The one that has received the most publicity is the Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto, Italian, 1697–1768.  It is probably also the most accessible since it is a scene of the Grand Canal in Venice. Who is not in love with the myth and reality of Venice?

There are a number of still lives, one by the most famous 17th century Dutch Still-Life painters, Jan Davidsz De Heem.  Titled, and this will be a surprise, “A Still Life of Flowers in a Glass”!    Another well-known artist of the period was Floris Claesz who has actually painted “The Feast for the Eyes” with the table setting with pitcher, goblet and cheese, fruit and nuts.  Note the trompe l’oeil effect of the knife tipped up against the cheese plate. 

My final example is possibly the most valuable,-- Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625), Flemish, “A Wooded River Landscape, with a Fish Market and Fishing Boats,” It is a small picture and painted on copper which gives it a luminous quality because the paint is not absorbed by wood or canvas but sits on the surface, glistening.

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