Willem van Aelst was born in Delft in 1627, the son of Jan van Aelst, a distinguished Notary from the city. He began his career as a pupil of his uncle the still life painter, Evert van Aelst but he soon proved that his abilities surpassed those of his relative. At the young age of sixteen he was elected a Member of the Guild in Delft in 1643. Two years later he travelled to France and was to live there for a further two years. In 1649 he left for Italy where he was to gain an enviable reputation as a painter of still lives and game pictures. He served as court painter to Ferdinand II de'Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany who was so impressed by the quality of his works that he bestowed on the artist several gold medals as well as numerous honours. It was in Italy that he met fellow countrymen Matthias Withoos and Otto Marseus van Schrieck. Many of the hunting accoutrements seen in Van Aelst's game still lifes appear to be of Italian manufacture or origin. Van Aelst was to live in Italy for seven years and on his return to the Netherlands, he established himself in Amsterdam in 1656. Here he was to receive many commissions. From 1658 he decided to sign his paintings 'Guillielmo' van Aelst retaining the Italian form of his christian name for the rest of his life. As a painter of still life compositions, whether they represented firearms, game, flowers or fruit, Van Aelst ranks as one of the leading artists of his generation. His sense of draughtmanship in the fur of animals, the feathers of birds or the petals of flowers is truly remarkable and such was the demand for his works that in his lifetime his paintings fetched very high prices. He is also known to have painted a single self-portrait.