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Work Still-life with Carp

Department of Paintings: Dutch painting

Still Life with Carp

© 1995 RMN / Gérard Blot

Dutch painting

Michèle Perny

Abraham van Beyeren specialized in paintings of fish, notably during his earliest period. This picture is a fine example, painted when Van Beyeren was a young artist, under the influence of Pieter de Putter. A number of seascapes by Van Beyeren date from the same period, including one displayed at the Louvre. Later in his career, he extended his subject-matter to include sumptuous banqueting-tables, and ornate still-lifes featuring virtuoso depictions of abundant, luxurious foodstuffs and objects.

An ornate still-life

At the top of the picture, the composition is dominated by a large carp – technically, a crucian carp – hanging rather awkwardly from a hook, by its dorsal fin. Immediately below and to the left stands a glazed earthenware jug. A massive rustic table, probably a kitchen worktable, supports a deceptively haphazard pile of fish – a pike, lying diagonally across the front of the composition, with its stomach cut open; a bream (or perhaps another carp) with its head sticking out over the left-hand side of the tabletop; three small perch with faint stripes along their backs, and red fins; two roach with orange-colored eyes, and a chub lying on its back, apparently emerging from a sort of net. This pile of freshwater fish has apparently been freshly caught. Their gleaming, silvery scales look disconcertingly alive. The fish are arranged in a clever composition of criss-crossing diagonals, with a subtle, almost monochrome palette of colors. The interplay of delicate tones and fleeting reflections bathes the picture in a strange, almost aquatic light.

A youthful work

This exquisite composition was in fact painted while Van Beyeren was still a young man, circa 1645-1650. It was doubtless highly influenced by the work of Pieter de Putter, another specialist in fish still-lifes, active in The Hague. The hanging carp, reproduced here, was a favorite motif of Putter's. Van Beyeren's version acknowledges the older master's characteristic monochrome color scheme, motifs and subject-matter. His work far exceeds that of De Putter, however, in its handling of light, and the striking materiality of the fishes' skin and flesh.

The hanging carp

A specialist painter of still-lifes, Abraham Van Beyeren is best known for his brilliant, virtuoso representations of sumptuous banquets and desserts, dating from the second half of the 17th century. Between 1653 and 1673 he also painted numerous, highly realistic paintings of fish. The hanging carp is a striking motif whose significance may or may not be purely decorative. It is often seen in works by Pieter de Putter, and other artists including Isaac Kuvenis, Abraham Susenier, Pieter Verbeeck or Dirk Goverts.


Jacques FOUCART, notice du tableau, pp. 72-74 in Nouvelles acquisitions du département des Peintures, PARIS : RMN, 1996, motif de la carpe suspendue : cf. note 2, page 74

Technical description

  • Abraham van BEYEREN (The Hague, 1620-21 - Overschie, 1690)

    Still Life with Carp

  • H. 0.73 m; W. 0.61 m

  • Acquired through bequest in lieu of inheritance tax, 1995 , 1995

    R.F. 1995-15

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Holland, first half of the 17th century
    Room 851-852

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Additional information about the work

Monogrammed top right: AVB f. (A and B joined)