Last Friday, the Yale University Art Gallery opened its lecture series on Golden Age Dutch painting with a talk by art historian John Walsh ’61.
“Food for Thought: Pieter Claesz and Dutch Still Life” was the first installment of “View on Dutch Painting of the Golden Age,” a YUAG program that brings nine scholars to the Gallery to speak on a variety of topics in the field of 17th-century Dutch art. The series accompanies 17 new Dutch paintings of the period, which have been installed in the Gallery as part of a three-year loan from the collection of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo. During his Friday talk, Walsh — a specialist in Dutch painting, as well as director emeritus of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles — said that he hopes to raise awareness among the broader Yale and New Haven communities about the works from the van Otterloo collection now on display in the YUAG.
“John Walsh is a gift to this institution,” said Elizabeth Manekin, the YUAG’s assistant curator of education. “It’s really wonderful that he’s sharing his knowledge with the whole gallery.”
Walsh’s lecture explored various topics related to Dutch still-life painting, including themes such as time, mortality and prosperity. In his talk, the scholar explained that the genre began as an exploration of an “ancient theme” — the brevity of life — and added that still lives can be organized into six categories based on elements of their composition: breakfast, kitchen, pipe, food, dead game or flower portraits.
Among the elements highlighted by Walsh during “Food for Thought” was the lemon, which made an appearance in every painting Walsh presented. Walsh said that lemons are often present in still lives as a symbol of luxury or fidelity, as well as the occasional mark of painterly ability.
“The lemon becomes a compulsory figure for artists,” said Walsh. “It became a competition on form and precision.”
Students who attended the event said they wanted to see Walsh’s lecture because of his prominence in the field, as well as a general desire to learn more about Dutch painting.
Judith Stapleton GRD ’21, a history of art student, said that she was drawn to the event because she did not know very much about Dutch still-life painting. Jan Cunningham ART ’95 cited a personal interest in the genre as one of the main reasons she decided to attend.
The series follows an earlier iteration —“A History of Dutch Paintings in Six Pictures” — that was delivered by Walsh in January and February of this year.
“View on Dutch Painting of the Golden Age” will be presented from September 2015 through March 2016.