I saw this painted porcelain plate featuring butterflies and bugs at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, and was curious to learn more.
The artist of this piece is Johann Zacharias Quast, and the Clark’s information label describes him as “Bohemian, 1814 – 1891,” and that the plate was painted in 1840, probably intended as a collectors’ item rather than for use in dining.
A common thought about “bohemians” is that it describes an unconventional artist or writer, but in this context, Quast being “Bohemian” means that he was born in Bohemia, which during his lifetime was a region in the western part of the present-day Czech Republic. His paintings of butterflies, beetles, spiders, flies, and other bugs were known to be a complete representation of the original creature down to the smallest detail, and were most likely painted with examples borrowed from collections of preserved samples. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see he even painted shadows for each creature so that they appear to stand in 3-D on the surface of the plate.
The image above was the only example of Quast’s work that I saw at the Clark, but I did find two more examples of his plate paintings online, which I’m including below.