Overview

Jan van Huysum’s lasting fame centers on his exuberant arrangements and technical virtuosity. More than any other artist before or after, he was able to capture the dynamic energy of a profuse array of flowers and fruit. In this superb and large example, the bouquet fills the entire panel. Flowers overflowing their terra-cotta vase and peaches and grapes spilling over the foreground ledge create a sense of opulent abundance. Woven in and out of the densely packed bouquet of peonies, roses, carnations, and auriculae are the rhythmically flowing stems and blossoms of tulips, veronica, tuberoses, and hops. The artist masterfully integrated insects into his bouquet and suggested the translucence of dewdrops on petals and leaves. He often illuminated blossoms situated at the back of his bouquets and silhouetted darker foreground leaves and tendrils against them.

Van Huysum was reportedly secretive about his technique, and he apparently forbade anyone, including his own brothers, to enter his studio for fear that they would learn how he purified and applied his colors. He spent a portion of each summer in Haarlem, already a major horticultural center in his day, in order to study flowers in bloom. The remarkable similarities in the shapes and character of individual blossoms in different still-life paintings indicate, however, that he also used drawn or painted models to satisfy pictorial demands.

Trained by his father, Justus van Huysum the Elder (1659–1716), Jan derived his compositional ideas and technical prowess from the examples of Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606–1684) and Willem van Aelst (1626–1683). Following De Heem’s lead, Jan van Huysum organized his bouquets with sweeping rhythms that draw the eye in circular patterns throughout the composition and included flowers that do not bloom at the same time. Van Aelst’s work showed Van Huysum the advantages of massing brightly lit flowers in order to focus the dynamically swirling rhythms underlying his compositions.

Inscription

lower left: Jan Van Huysum fecit

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Baron Louis de Rothschild [1882-1955], Vienna.[1] his niece, Baroness Reininghaus [née Bettina Rothschild Springer, 1912-1974]; her husband, Baron Kurt Reininghaus [d. 1984]; sold to (Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna); sold c. 1994 to Mr. and Mrs. Philip Cunningham, Alexandria, Virginia; partially sold and partially given 1996 through (Otto Naumann, New York) to NGA.

Exhibition History

1999
From Botany to Bouquets: Flowers in Northern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999, no. 19, fig. 60.
2000
Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
2006
The Temptations of Flora: Jan van Huysum 1682-1749 (De verleiding van Flora: Jan van Huysum 1682-1749), Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2006-2007, no. F5, repro.

Bibliography

1999
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. From Botany to Bouquets: Flowers in Northern Art. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1999: 67-69, 71, 84, no. 19, fig. 60.
2000
National Gallery of Art. Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2000: 38-39, 304, color repro.
2000
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. The Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish painting: the Edward and Sally Speelman Collection. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. Houston, 2000: 50-51, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 212-213, no. 171, color repro
2006
Segal, Sam, Mariël Ellens, and Joris Dik. De verleiding van Flora: Jan van Huysum, 1682-1749. Exh. cat. Museum het Prinsenhof, Delft; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Zwolle, 2006: no. 5, repro.
2007
Segal, Sam. The Temptations of Flora: Jan van Huysum, 1682-1749. Translated by Beverly Jackson. Exh. cat. Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Zwolle, 2007: no. 5, repro.

Conservation Notes

The support panel consists of a single plank of oak[1] with a vertical grain. The panel has been beveled on all four sides and thin wooden strips have been added to the left and right sides. The ground is a buff-colored layer that is very thin and allows the wood texture to show through. The paint is also rather thin, but there is very slight impasto in some of the highlights. Van Huysum painted wet-into-wet, allowing his brushstrokes to form the shapes of the flower petals. In some areas he used the ground and the dark background to create the mid-tones and the shadows in the foliage. He did not leave many reserves, and infrared reflectography at 1.1 to 1.8 microns[2] revealed numerous artist’s changes.

The painting is in excellent condition. An old vertical check extends from the top edge of the panel down to the tip of the uppermost red and white tulip. A small protruding square area at the top edge of the panel is probably the result of the two vertical checks on either side of it. Several nicks and dents exist near the bottom edge of the panel. The paint exhibits a minute crackle pattern that is more prevalent in lighter colors, but completely absent in the pure whites. Very recent inpainting is evident along the split and scattered throughout the composition. It is particularly heavy near the bottom edge, indicating numerous small losses or abrasion in this part of the painting. Examination with ultraviolet light revealed an old varnish that was thinned in the background and on some of the flowers. A more recent layer of varnish was applied on top of the partially removed one

 

[1] The characterization of the wood is based on visual examination only.

[2] Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focal plane array InSb camera fitted with H and J astronomy filters.

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