Still life painter Willem van Aelst learned his specialty from his uncle, a painter in Delft. In 1643 he enrolled in the Delft painters' guild and later in the 1640s worked in France. Van Aelst then traveled to Florence, where he served as court painter to Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. His signature, Guill[er]mo van Aelst, reflects his Italian experience. Ironically, the Dutch nature painters that he met in Florence, known for their highly finished cabinet pictures, may have influenced Van Aelst's detailed, smooth style.
Van Aelst settled in Amsterdam in 1657, becoming famous for his ornate still lifes. The fine glassware, silver goblets, fruit, and flowers display the influence of Willem Kalf's luxurious compositions. Van Aelst was one of the earliest Dutch artists to paint an asymmetrically arranged bouquet. Van Aelst's other specialty was game pictures; he painted over sixty of them between 1652 and 1681. Each contains the hunter's quarry along with scrupulous studies of guns, leather pouches, powder horns, and other hunting accessories set on marble slabs.
Still life painter Rachel Ruysch was one of his pupils.