Sunday, August 18, 2013

19th Century Dreams of the 18th Century: The Rococo Revival in Great Britain

boucherinterruptedsleepFrancois Boucher The Interrupted Sleep 1750 oil on canvas 31”x27.75” The Metropolitan Museum of Art

During the 18th century the British did not highly favor the Rococo style of France, but beginning in the 1820’s there was a shift away from a more neo-classical Empire style in favor of a greater interest in Rococo design and motifs.  This movement became known as the Rococo Revival  and lasted into the 1860’s and I would argue even later.  Its appearance signaled the historicist nature of the 19th century as it looked to the past for artistic and stylistic inspiration.  Besides the Rococo Revival there was a Gothic Revival, a Renaissance Revival and an Egyptian Revival.  These revival styles were not mere imitators of past forms but a unique reformulation of older styles and motifs.  They were also not confined to Great Britain, but appeared and flourished in the United States, France and Germany.

P1020320A George IV sterling cream jug made in London in 1824 by George Knight

An 1824 London cream jug by George Knight demonstrates the beginning of the interest in the Rococo.  (All objects in this post are from my own collection unless otherwise noted.)  While the George IV jug still vaguely maintains the neoclassical helmet shape, it has become fatter, more plump in its outline and volume suggesting the richness and sumptuousness of the Rococo. Also, it is elegantly raised on little ball feet which give it an abundance and playfulness that is in contrast to earlier more sober designs of the Empire style.

P1020323George VI 1824 cream jug decoration detail

Around the body of the creamer is an exuberant engraving of flowers, leaves and fruit. Yet along side this Rococo Revival display is a classical palmette or anthemion which indicates how this creamer is a transitional piece. It still has neoclassical elements of design alongside the emerging interest in 18th century French style which would gain greater popularity into the 1830’s and 1840’s

watteautileMinton tile from the “Watteau” series first introduced in the 1840’s and reissued in the 1880’s.  This tile is from the 1880’s.

In the 1840’s Minton made a tile series named “Watteau” based on the fête champêtre paintings of the French Rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau.  The fête champêtre was a popular form of entertainment with the French court in the 18th century that took the form of a garden party.  This garden party is also characterized by amorous musings and goings on although with  Watteau there is always a poignancy and almost sadness to the proceedings that are certainly not evident in the joyous nature of the above tile in which a young gentleman serenades his potential love with a flute in a bucolic landscape.  Yet, while different in tone than Watteau the tile does indeed have all the elements of a fête champêtre- lovers in period dress, music and a pastoral setting, but only 2 figures whereas the traditional fête champêtre usually incorporates many figures.

watteauscaleoflove Jean-Antoine Watteau  The Scale of Love 1715-1718 oil on canvas 20”x23.5” The National Gallery London

watteautile2Minton tile from the “Watteau” series first introduced in the 1840’s and reissued in the 1880’s. This tile is from the 1880’s.

The above tile is another example from the Minton "Watteau” series and again displays the essential components of its type- male and female figures in period costume, the figures are in a bucolic space with amorous intentions and music.  Also, note here the tile border with its acanthus swirls which are very reminiscent of Rococo motifs.  The Minton tiles also demonstrate that interest in the Rococo Revival lasted well past the 1860’s.  Why else would Minton reintroduce this pattern in the 1880’s if they didn’t think it would be saleable item. 

And it should be noted that there were various transferware patterns named “Watteau” during the 1840’s and 1850’s particularly in flow blue.  “Watteau” must have been a good buzz word in which to name your pattern because it was to a degree in the collective consciousness and signaled the Rococo style.  Here is an example of one “Watteau” pattern in green which is unusual:

watteautransferplate Scalloped wash bowl in the “Watteau” pattern by Francis Morley and Company 1845-1858 Courtesy Transferware Collector’s Club

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P1020333 Silverplate Mustard Pot by Elkington and Co.,Ltd. dated 1853

An example of the Rococo Revival from the 1850’s is this sweet, humble mustard pot in silverplate with a blue glass liner by Elkington and Co., Ltd.  Birmingham dated 1853.  Elkington pieces of silverplate are wonderful because they have letter marks which allow you to date them to the year of their production.  The mustard pot has all the hallmarks of Rococo Revival design in silver.  It has a gadrooned, lobed body that is embellished with repousse flowers and acanthus leaves which are then engraved.  It also has a lovely c-scroll cartouche with a period R initial of its perhaps original owner.  The lid of the mustard pot is also decorated with flowers and acanthus leaves and there is an upright shell with which to open the lid.

P1020595 Silverplate Sugar Bowl by Elkington and Co., Ltd. dated 1865

P1020597 Silverplate Creamer by Elkington and Co., Ltd dated 1865

A large silverplate creamer and sugar also by Elkington provides an example of the Rococo Revival from the 1860’s.  Like the mustard pot the sugar and creamer have a lobed body, the two displaying a particularly elegant bulbous pear shape with lovely shaped and scrolled handles.  Both pieces are embellished with repousse flowers and acanthus leaves that have then been further engraved to highlight and express the details of the floral elements and increase the richness and exuberance of the overall piece.

P1020596 Sugar Bowl Detail

My final example of the Rococo Revival is a very late example-  a pair of sterling bud vases made in London by William Comyns in 1902 at the very end of the Victorian Era.

P1010107 1902 Sterling Bud Vases made in London by William Comyns

The pair of vases have all the characteristics of the Rococo Revival.  The are heavily embellished with C-scrolls and some flowers.  Nestled among this profusion are cherubs.  Pieces such as these vases indicate that the Rococo Revival style lasted well into the late 19th century.  Perhaps it was not as popular or ubiquitous, but examples of this revival style still persisted and were desired.

P1010084Comyns Vase Detail of Flying Cherub

The Comyns vases also point the way to the Art Nouveau style which to some degree could be understood and discussed as yet another Rococo Revival in the early 20th century.  For myself I find Rococo Revival pieces quite appealing just as much as I like its 18th century origins.  The sumptuous and playful nature of the style both in 1720 and 1840 has always garnered my interest just as I am fascinated how the 19th century recast this style for its own time and purposes.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Georgian On My Mind Part II: A George III Cream Jug and A George IV Cream Jug

King_George_III_by_Sir_William_Beechey_(2)King George III by Sir William Beechy, 1799-1800,  oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London.  George III was on the throne from  1760-1820.  When this portrait was painted, my cream jug was being forged in London.

The Georgian Era spanned the reign of 5 Hanoverian monarchs of Great Britain from 1715-1837.  In 1837, the last Hanoverian monarch, Queen Victoria, ascended the throne which she occupied until 1901 giving her name to the Victorian Era which spanned most of the 19th century.  The 2 cream jugs discussed in this post are just small examples of Georgian cultural production.  They do, however, illustrate the transition from the neoclassicism of the late 18th and early 19th century to the Rococo Revival style of the 19th century which began in the reign of George IV and continued into the Victorian period and was part of the historicism that permeated most of that era.

P1020315George III sterling cream jug London 1799 with unreadable maker’s mark

The George III cream jug in my collection was made in London in 1799.  The maker’s mark is unfortunately unreadable.  The jug has a traditional, yet modified neoclassical helmet shape with the added detail of a lobed body and  a gilt interior.

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Below the spout and above the lobed section of the creamer there is an area of engraved decoration.  The motif is a guilloche- a repetitive architectural pattern used in classical Greek and Roman architecture as well as neo-classical architecture. It consists of two ribbons winding around a series of regular central points. These central points are sometimes blank, but may also contain a figure.   On the George III cream jug the central points contain a flower.

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At the base of the creamer there is a band of stylized, engraved acanthus leaf decoration.  The acanthus leaf is another common motif in neoclassical design.  

                  George_IVasprinceregentGeorge IV as Prince Regent by Thomas Lawrence, 1816, oil on canvas, Vatican Museum.  George IV was regent for his father George III during his madness from 1811-1820.  He was King from 1820-1830.  Where does he get that fabulous hair?!?!?

George_IV__of_the_United_KingdomGeorge IV by Thomas Lawrence, 1822, oil on canvas, Devonshire Collection.  Where does he get that fabulous hair?!?!?

P1020320A George IV sterling cream jug made in London in 1824 by George Knight

In contrast to the neoclassical style of the 1799 cream jug, the George IV creamer made in 1824 in London by George Knight represents the first steps in a new direction of design.  Beginning in the 1820’s an interest in the Rococo style of the 18th century gathered momentum and the Rococo Revival was born.

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Made in 1824 this George IV cream jug demonstrates the inception of the Rococo Revival style.  While the jug still vaguely maintains the neoclassical helmet shape, it has become fatter, more plump in its outline and volume suggesting the richness and sumptuousness of the Rococo.  Also, it is elegantly raised on little ball feet which also give it an abundance and playfulness that is in contrast to the more sober design of the 1799 cream jug.

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P1020331Around the body of the creamer is an exuberant engraving of flowers, leaves and fruit.  Yet along side this Rococo Revival display is a classical palmette or anthemion which indicates how this creamer is a transitional piece.  It still has neoclassical elements of design alongside the emerging interest in 18th century French style.

 

Also, another interesting feature of this creamer is that on the front below the spout in addition to an engraved G there is a beautifully rendered crest or coat of arms.  It consists of a border with a Greek key design and a buckle.  Inside this border are 3 whiskey barrels and a chevron.  Below the badge the year “1824” is inscribed.

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I have not yet been able to identify this coat of arms, but will do further research soon.  Perhaps there was a family whose surname began with the letter G.  They lived in London in the early 19th century and used this cream jug when serving tea to their guests.  Being able to identify the family to whom this piece of sterling belonged would be a wonderful thing.  It would fulfill all of my desires and fantasies about owning antiques.  For me, they bear the traces of their past use and are imbued with life of those who owned them. For me, this George IV cream jug as well as the George III cream jug are alive with the past.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Georgian On My Mind: A George III Silver Cream Jug

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While I love to collect pieces of pottery and silver from The Aesthetic Movement, lately I have been attracted to the more classical forms of the late Georgian period.  Recently, I acquired a very sweet small cream jug, 3.5” in height, which is a lovely example of the period.  The jug was made by Alice and George Burrows and assayed in London in 1805.

P1020283The hallmarks on the jug.  The last mark on the right is the head of George III.

georgeIIIcoronationKing George III in Coronation Robes by Allan Ramsay, 1761-1762, oil on canvas, 58”x42”, National Portrait Gallery, London.

georgianhelmutThe shape of my jug is a common form of the period.  To me, it is reminiscent of the popular helmet shape also typically Georgian, but it does not have the pedestal and is less tapered at the bottom being fatter and more squat.

The creamer is engraved with a lovely, classical Greek key motif which travels around the entire piece.  Its handle is reeded and the interior of the piece still retains its original gilding.

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The jug also has a superb period monogram which reads JEN and is surrounded by a stylized ribbon motif which creates a cartouche in which the initials appear.

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I look forward to using this creamer at tea one day.  When I look at it, I can just imagine when it was new, gleaming in the afternoon light as a Georgian lady named J poured cream into the cup of her guest.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Raw (and the Cooked)

serrano_untitled_viiAndres Serrano, Untitled VII (Ejaculate in Trajectory), dye bleached print, 1989

Lately, on Tumblr I have been following a fair number of blogs dedicated to gay pornography.  These blogs seem to suit my current mood and desire, even though my Tumblr, Polar Bear Desire, is decidedly non-pornographic, but very queer.  It makes for a strange combination and has raised some significant questions in my head, most notably the display of bareback porn and bloggers who are barebackers themselves.

Two Tumblr blogs come to mind in this regard: PussyboiCumdump and Confessions of a Manic Ivy League Jock.  (Warning: NSFW)  These two blogs not only display naked men alone and together engaged in bareback sex, but also contain stories of their authors’ raw sexual exploits.  Recently, I asked each of them how they negotiate their HIV risk?  Neither replied and perhaps they each think I am a sexual hypocrite who follows their blog, but at the same time questions their sexual practices.  And maybe I am.

I don’t know how I really feel about consuming bareback porn.  In other words, my head says one thing and my cock says another.  Could I just view bareback porn and read stories of unprotected sex as an outlet for my own personal fantasy or do my actions make me complicit in promoting and condoning unsafe sexual practices?  Do I have some responsibility for my fantasy even while I in my own sexual life make practicing safe sex a priority and a necessity?

Both PussyboiCumdump  and IvyJockBoy are young and in college, but that still doesn’t help me understand how they can take loads without being concerned about the risk even though young men who have sex with men are the only group for which the incidence of HIV seems to be  increasing.  And yes there are drugs today which can treat HIV, but the medication itself could cause other health problems as one ages and at times it is not even effective.

In the end, I think, because these two bloggers are in a sense “real people” to me and not an anonymous performer in a bareback porn, their unsafe sexual practices affect me more.  In a strange way, I want to care about them.  I want to save them.  And after my cock metaphorically fantasizes about them or the images on their blogs, my head ultimately just feels sad and helpless.

Postscript

PussyboiCumdump responded to another follower about negotiating his HIV risk.  The question: “With the anon loads how do you protect yourself?  Or is it just a risk?”

PussyboiCumdump replied, “It’s just a risk if you’re taking raw loads in your holes. Being clean here has been a huge amount of luck honestly, but it also is about being smart. I am a slut, but I don’t frequent sex clubs, bathhouses, glory holes, arcades, theaters, etc. - those places are harder to know what you’re getting yourself into. I ALWAYS ask, I look for any physical signs like shit leaking out of a guy’s dick or weird lesions or whatever, and I more times than not am getting with guys whom don’t sleep around as much as I do. That makes my odds a bit better. And I keep myself very clean as well and get tested regularly. Not much more we can do.”

I don’t know how to really comment on his reply.

Postscript Part 2

IvyJockboy whose Tumblr blog Confessions of A Manic Ivy League Jock replied recently to my question about how he manages his HIV risk.  He writes:  “one way is to sleep with positive guys that are on meds and undetectable. it’s counter intuitive, but waaay safer than bb with a guy sehfidenifying as “neg”. Any neg person that doesn’t use condoms consistently is a gamble. people forget that it just takes one time with one guy. The MOST contagious guys are the newly converted. they are the ones that spread it. it’s more comfortable to live in a false reality of still being neg after taking 6 anon loads at the bathhouse than to get tested and deal.

If you’re a top Kelly, you’re in luck. hiv is EXTREMELY hard for tops to contract during anal homosexual sex. it really takes a poz untreated blood bottom… or if you’re getting sloppy seconds and fucking with another guys cum. I know several Top man whores in their late forties and fifties that have never worn a rubber. it’s better to bottom for a total top that’s drug free.

lastly you can go on Prep. it’s an hiv preventative drug Truvada. it’s used for high risk populations. At the end of the day one has to weigh the benefits and risks. I can have amazingly hot porn quality sex anywhere. I love feeling a guy’s body seize and jerk as he shoots inside me. (less risk if you have him pull out). I’m not all that worried about hiv. The stigma and misunderstanding and misinformation is the hardest part, not the health aspect. if the cost is taking 1 or 3 pills once a day that keep me healthy, stop me from spreading, and gives me an amazing sex life. it isn’t so bad. it’s not 1984 or 1994. we need to stop the judgement and get guys tested and on meds. i’m on ambien sorry for the lack of form”

Again I am a bit speechless.  His reply is an interesting mix of knowledge and bravado with a lecturing tone as if I don’t know anything about HIV.  One fact he doesn’t seem to know is that HIV meds only are really effective for 28% of those infected.  (This statement is now I realize in error.  See below.)  Now I am really angry and sad. 

This statistic seemed odd to me, but I did not dig further.  Thankfully, I thoughtful reader named Perry clarified the 28% statistic.  He replied, “This percentage of ART suppression in HIV-infected people is so low primarily because most HIV-infected persons are not diagnosed, not accessing care, or not taking medications. The reason is not because medications don't work.”  Thank you Perry for helping make sense of a vague number.

Here are some other Great Within posts on HIV, AIDS, and pornography:

Death/Grief/Absence/Presence: Felix and Felix

31 Seconds of Anger, Terror, Shock and Ambivalence:  It's Never Just HIV

AIDS, Masculinity and Representation:  A Conversation with Jack Mackenroth

Postscript: AIDS, Masculinity and the Representation of the (Gay) Body

The Absent Body:  Felix Gonzalez-Torres, AIDS, Homosexuality and Representation

All Male "Live" Nude Revue

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Notes on Nostalgia: Visiting the American Museum of Natural History

This past week I took my goddaughter and her older brother and sister to the American Museum of Natural History.  Our first stop at the museum was the Hall of North American Mammals which first opened in 1942.  I fondly remember seeing these dioramas as a child which is when I last visited the museum. 

Yet, I additionally have always found these dioramas populated with stuffed animals with their detailed trompe-l’oeil backgrounds to be a bit eerie and spooky .  This feeling is in part structured by the presentation of the exhibits.  The exhibition hall is darkened and the dioramas are for the most part brightly lit and they emerge from the darkness like a dream revealing their occupants who stand motionless and silent. 

Unlike seeing animals in zoo, the animals in the museum exhibits do not move or utter a sound.  Wouldn’t it  be wonderful to view all these mammals without the perpetual noise of the museum crowds to really experience their eternal silence?  Despite the visitor noise, standing there in the dark looking at the illuminated animals, I have a sense of nostalgia, loss and death. 

Nostalgia for a long ago ended childhood when I first saw these frozen animals.  Nostalgia for  how I used to make dioramas in school.  (Do kids make dioramas anymore?)  A feeling of loss (or displacement?) for that queer little boy who survived until adulthood.  And for all the people whom I lost along the way.  The Hall of North American Mammals is a sort of tomb.

me74Me in 1974

teddyrooseveltI also feel the dioramas are decidedly a 19th century practice even though the Hall of North American Mammals was opened in 1942.  The exhibit speaks to the 19th century masculine need to collect, to classify, to divide, to control, to hunt, to exhibit.  As I stand in the exhibition hall, I feel as if Teddy Roosevelt is standing behind me with his big gun as he gets ready to go hunting to find specimens for the museum. 

Here are some of my favorites:

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Game on the Table: Silverplate Pheasants Circa 1900

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Here is a pair of silverplate table pheasants, unmarked, probably circa 1900, English or Continental, that sometimes adorn my table when I entertain.  Lately, I have been wondering about the origins of my metallic feathered friends.  Maybe they refer to the Medieval table in the Great Hall with its abundant feast of game birds presented in elaborate displays. And perhaps they simply suggest the hunting of game itself, and  thereby they would appropriately occupy the table of an English country house where shooting game was a traditional pastime. 

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A cursory look on the internet for silver pheasants in both sterling and plate (and also in .800 grade silver) showed that most of these birds were late Victorian to 1930’s in date and were usually of British or German manufacture with some Italian birds thrown in the mix.  This late appearance of such shiny birds suggests that while they refer to hunting and the past, to the English country house, they are also maybe part of the end of this world that began with the Great War.  Silver table pheasants are then perhaps a metal symbol of past glories and traditions both for those who actually came from that dying world, but also for an aspiring middle class that could buy a cheaper plate bird and have their table look as splendid as the lord of the manor.  Pheasants as fantasy for all.

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When I look at my silver table pheasants I am pleasantly reminded of Dutch and Flemish still-life painting of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

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Jan Weenix The White Peacock, 1692, oil on canvas, 75.2”x65.4”, The Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.

These lavish, lush and tactile displays of dead game in paint sometimes with accompanying fruit and flowers are full of rich, sumptuous texture and color.  They are gruesome, yet deliciously appetizing.  Dead animals become something gorgeous to look at (rather than to be avoided) in carefully arranged compositions which could inspire a magnificent tablescape for a dinner party.  Yet, dead animals on your table while beautiful in pigment is unappealing in actuality.

And indeed while these paintings were meant as displays of wealth and of the skill of the artist to be visually admired, they were simultaneously vanitas- reminding the spectator that the material world is fleeting and everything and everyone dies in it.  Animals are killed, flowers wilt, fruit rots and man turns to dust.

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Attributed to Jan Fyt, Still-life with Fruit, Dead Game and a Parrot, late 1640’s, oil on canvas, 33.3”x44.6”, The National Gallery London.

One might suggest an animal stuffed by taxidermy as a substitute for your tablescape to get that Dutch/Flemish look.  However, this solution may not be ideal either.  Strangely a October 2011 post on Kovel’s Komments, an online antique newsletter, warns, “A popular magazine is featuring taxidermed birds in the center of a table near dishes that would hold food.  It makes a nice photo, but it’s a bad idea.  Stuffed animals attract many types of insects, especially head lice (we learned the hard way), and feathers and furs are difficult to clean.”  Oh dear! 

I guess stuffed dead birds are out too for an arresting tablescape.  Luckily, I have my silver table pheasants to step into the breach and provide a beautiful table for my guests and remind them of hunting and shooting, of English country houses, of times long gone and hopefully since this would endlessly please me, they would see in my metal birds a hint of  Dutch and Flemish still-life painting.  Here are some further examples of this genre to whet your appetite:

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Jan Fyt, Partridge and Small Game Birds, 1650’s, oil on canvas, 18.25”x14.25”, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Jan Fyt, Dead Birds in a Landscape, 1640’s, oil on canvas, 16.4”x22.4”, The National Gallery, London.

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Jan Weenix, Gamepiece with Dead Heron, 1695, oil on canvas, 52.75”x43.75”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Jan Weenix, Deerhound with Dead Game, 1708, oil on canvas, 68.3”x61.8”, The National Gallery, London.

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Jan Weenix, Landscape with Huntsman and Dead Game, 1697, oil on canvas, 135.4”x127.2”, National Gallery of Scotland.

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Jan Weenix, Still-life with Jack Rabbit, 1697, oil on canvas, 45”x37.8”, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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Jan Weenix, Still-life with Birds and Rabbit, 1714, oil on canvas, 67.7”x63”, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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Frans Snijders, Still-life with Game, Flowers and Fruit, 1600-1657, oil on canvas,  47.4”x69.4”, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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Frans Snijders, Still-life with Game, Flowers and Fruit, 1600-1657, oil on wood, 22.4”x34.6”, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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Wybrand Hendriks, Fruit, Flowers and Dead Birds, c.1780, oil on canvas, 26.7”x21.5”, The National Gallery, London.

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