Philip van Kouwenbergh is a relatively unknown Amsterdam artist whose total oeuvre may comprise fewer than twenty still-life paintings. This bold flower arrangement, organized along a diagonal, surrounds an elaborate earthenware urn. Van Kouwenbergh has included roses, poppies, morning glories, white lilacs, stalks of wheat, and a butterfly, as well as a snail and other insects. The urn is surmounted by a whimsical sculpture of a boy swimming with a sea creature.
None of Van Kouwenbergh’s paintings are dated, but they were on the open market by 1694, at which time he must have been an independent master. Based on the stylistic similarities to paintings by his purported master Elias van den Broeck (c. 1650–1708), this decorative still life probably stems from the early part of Van Kouwenbergh’s career.
This decorative still life is one of the few signed works by this relatively unknown Amsterdam painter. The execution is fairly broad, and the colors are deep and rich. Van Kouwenbergh has displayed his floral arrangement around an elaborate earthenware urn situated at the edge of a stone ledge. The composition is organized along a diagonal that is not embellished with intricate rhythms of blossoms or twisting stems. In this respect Van Kouwenbergh belongs to the tradition of late followers of
See Fred G. Meijer, “Philip van Kouwenberg,” Oud-Holland 102 (1988): 319. Meijer has been able to assemble an oeuvre for the artist consisting of fewer than twenty still-life paintings.
Anke A. van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, “Nog een bloemstuk van Philip van Kouwenbergh (1671–1729),” Antiek 26 (1991): 253–254, has proposed a date at the end of the seventeenth century on the basis of the palette and the appearance of the wheat. She expressly compares this painting with another undated still life at Stourhead House, Wiltshire (National Trust) (her fig. 2).
Van Kouwenbergh includes many of the plants found in paintings by De Heem and his followers, including roses, poppies, morning glories, white lilacs, and stalks of wheat. He also incorporates a banded grove snail, two centipedes attacking each other, and a butterfly. In De Heem’s still lifes—for example,
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right: [P] Kouwebeh
Probably by inheritance to Viscount de Beughem, Brussels; by inheritance to his niece, Mary Eula Mason Blair [1906 -1983], and her husband, William Draper Blair [1902-1993], Washington, D.C.; gift 1976 to NGA.
- Extended loan for use by Secretary Robert Mosbacher, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., 1989-1993.
- Extended loan for use by Secretary Ron Brown, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., 1993-1997.
- Extended loan for use by Secretary William M. Daley, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., 1997-1999.
The support, a heavy-weight, loosely and plain-woven fabric, has been lined with the tacking margins removed. Cusping is visible along all edges. Colored imprimaturas were applied locally over a fawn-colored ground. Thin, fluid paint layers are subtly blended, exploiting darker underlayers, and modified with light glazes and scumbles. The fading of a fugitive yellow pigment may be the cause of the blue tonality to the leaves, which overlap the completed vase.
The bottom edge and lower left corner are extensively damaged and reconstructed. A small loss is found in the red flower at center. Moderate abrasion overall has exposed darker underlayers, altering the tonal balance. The painting was lined and discolored varnish was removed in 1969, prior to acquisition.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 217, repro.
- Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, Anke A. van. "Nog een bloemstuk van Philip van Kouwenbergh (1671–1729)." Antiek 26 (1991): 252-255, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 152-154, color repro. 153.
- wheat +used symbolically
- still life of plants and flowers
- artist +Elias van den Broeck +influence of