Joannes Fijt, the son of a wealthy merchant, was born in Antwerp in 1611 and received his earliest artistic training in the studio of Jan van den Bergh 1587/88-after 1649) and later from Frans Snijders (1579-1657), who was to determine his choice of subject matter and early style. In 1633, two years after leaving Snijders' studio, Fijt travelled to Paris and subsequently crossed the Alps, visiting Naples, Florence, Venice and Rome, where he joined the Schildersbent under the nickname of 'Goudvink' (Goldfinch). By 1641 Fijt had returned to Antwerp where, apart from a brief trip to the Northern Netherlands, he would remain for the rest of his life. He established a flourishing studio, counting Peeter Boel (1622-1674) and Jacques van de Kerckhove (1636/37-1712) amongst his pupils.
Fijt was one of the most commercially successful artists of his day, as evidenced by his extensive output: no fewer than 287 still lifes have been recorded, of which 166 are signed works. Moreover, his development is easy to monitor as dated paintings survive from nearly every year between 1638 and his death year 1661 (see: E. Greindl, Les Peintres Flamands de Nature Morte au XVIIe Siècle, Brussels, 1983, pp. 348-54). Fijt's earliest known works already reveal a strong Italian influence, abandoning Snijders's use of local colour and his preference for more formally arranged compositions and a tonal palette of mossy green, grey, or brown.
The present work, which is dated 1658, is an excellent example of Fijt's mature style, revealing his masterly rendering of light and texture within a daring, theatrical composition. In this instance he creates a dynamic and asymmetrical composition with the steep diagonal of the rifle. By varying his treatment and brushwork of the different motives in the composition (for instance, the suspended partridges and the hare in the middle are painted very finely, while the stone and the basket behind are rendered more loosely), Fijt achieves his characteristic sense of depth and produces an image that appears to go in and out of focus.
Comparable large-scale arrangements of this kind can be seen in the 'Hunting still life' of 1655 in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and the 'Hunting still life' of 1653, that was with Thomas Agnew & Sons, London in 1955 (see: F. Greindl, op. cit., no. 75).