A gifted pupil of Frans Snyders, Jan Fyt was one of the most successful painters of game pieces and animal still lifes working in Antwerp during the mid-seventeenth century. This robust and vigorously painted study of the head of a wild boar demonstrates his combined powers of observation and his technical abilities, as well as offering an insight into his working practice. Fyt would have painted the boar’s head from life, working directly onto the primed canvas. The anatomy of the head is skilfully rendered from two different positions and the texture of the fur is described with rapid strokes of ochres, browns, greys and even dashes of red, while for the lolling tongue and yellowed tusks and teeth, the paint has been applied wet-on-wet with a more fluid manipulation of the brush. A comparable study of a boar’s head in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (fig. 1), executed with the same vitality and energy, may have been painted at the same moment.
Fyt would no doubt have been encouraged to make such studies by his master, Frans Snyders, who himself made studies of boars’ heads, which he retained in his workshop for reuse in his paintings, such as that now at Hampton Court (Royal Collection Trust). The inclusion of boar’s heads in kitchen and market still lifes was common in Antwerp during the seventeenth century, but such studies could also have been used in hunting scenes. Indeed, the head on the left in this study perhaps informed Fyt’s Boar Hunt of circa 1648-50 (Leeds, Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries) and the Atalanta and Meleager hunting the Calydonian Boar in the Ringling Museum, Florida, though in both the painter has changed the orientation of the animal’s head to look upwards.
The attribution was confirmed by Dr. Fred Meijer at the time of the sale in 1999.