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Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Dutch, 1606-1683/4), Still Life of flowers in a glass vase in a stone niche, Oil on oak panel, Grasset Collection.

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.- Dreamy landscapes and luscious still life paintings from one of the world’s greatest private collections join together in A Feast for the Eyes: European Masterpieces from the Grasset Collection, a stunning exhibition opening March 23 at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

The exhibition features 40 of the finest Old Master paintings by artists from the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Germany — including Jan Brueghel the Elder and Canaletto, one of the greatest view painters of all time represented here 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 assembled this group of masterpieces. 

The St. Petersburg exhibition is the last time the works are expected to be shown together. 

This group of paintings has only been exhibited publicly 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.

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Floris Claesz. van Dyck (Dutch, 1575-1651), Still Life with Fruit and Olives, c. 1600, oil on panel, Grasset Collection.

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 (16971768). (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).  

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Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal), The Grand Canal, Venice, Oil on canvas, Grasset Collection.

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 (15901632), symbolizing how wealth and success can be fleeting. And in a work by Jan Breughel 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.  

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Peter Binoit (German, c. 1590–1632), Still Life, Oil on beechwood panel, Grasset Collection.

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Jan Breughel the Elder (Flemish, 1568-1625), A wooded river landscape, with a fishmarket and fishing Boats, 1610, Oil on copper, Grasset Collection

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.”.