Against a pale greenish-ocher background, the subtle colors and organic rhythms of Jan van Huysum’s exuberant flower arrangement in an urn create an elegant whole, without focusing unduly upon any individual blossom. The bouquet is in a terra-cotta vase decorated with playful cupids, and near it are three pale blue eggs in a bird’s nest, which teeters on the edge of the marble tabletop. Like Jan Davidsz de Heem, the famous still-life artist on whose work he must have drawn for inspiration, Van Huysum introduced improbable combinations of flowers in his paintings as well as a wide variety of insects to enliven his image. The lighter tonal background of this work, which enhances its delicate and decorative quality, is characteristic of the artist’s later style.
Van Huysum’s lasting fame rests on his technical virtuosity and his precise observations of flowers and fruit. It has never been determined how he achieved such high degrees of accuracy because he was an extremely secretive artist. Nevertheless, it seems that he painted most of his flowers directly from life or from models he had previously drawn from life. In a letter to a patron he complained that he could not finish a still life that was to include a yellow rose until that flower blossomed the following spring.
Situated as they are against a pale greenish-ocher background, the subtle colors and organic rhythms of Van Huysum’s exuberant floral display create an elegant ensemble. The poppy, morning glory, and ranunculus tendrils that weave in and out of the densely massed rose, vinca, carnation, iris, and tulip blossoms carry the eye throughout the bouquet, so that the viewer takes in the entire arrangement without focusing unduly upon any individual blossom. The image’s decorative character is further enhanced by the terra-cotta vase embellished with playful cupids and the precariously perched nest containing three pale blue eggs.
Van Huysum is known to have studied with his father, Justus van Huysum (1659–1716), yet in this work the primary artistic inspiration must have been that of
See Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1980), 1:209–211.
Despite the similarities in concept apparent in the works of these two men, great differences also exist. De Heem preferred a dark background against which he could contrast the whites and vibrant colors of his bouquet and concentrate the energy of his composition. Van Huysum, by contrast, chose later in his career to use backgrounds with a light tonality so that he could create a more delicate and, ultimately, more decorative image. De Heem often included nonfloral elements, such as stalks of grain and bean pods, that were instrumental in conveying an underlying religious meaning for his paintings. Van Huysum, on the other hand, does not appear to have chosen specific types of plants for their symbolic associations. Rather, he seems to have designed floral arrangements to suggest both the richness and fertility of nature and, through allusions to the cycle of life, the transience of earthly existence.
The chronological evolution of Van Huysum’s style is difficult to determine because of the relative paucity of dated still lifes. This work, however, with its light background, must date shortly after
See Technical Summary, and also Sam Segal, Mariël Ellens, and Joris Dik, The Temptations of Flora: Jan Van Huysum, 1682–1749 (Zwolle, 2006).
For Duquesnoy’s relief sculpture, see Mariette Fransolet, François du Quesnoy: Sculpteur d’Urbain VIII, 1597–1643 (Brussels, 1942). John Walsh Jr. and Cynthia P. Schneider, in A Mirror of Nature: Dutch Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Edward William Carter (Los Angeles, 1981), 66, believe that although the figures were inspired by Duquesnoy, the vases were actually designed by Van Huysum himself.
John Walsh Jr. and Cynthia P. Schneider, in A Mirror of Nature: Dutch Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Edward William Carter (Los Angeles, 1981), 66 n. 9, have determined that the first dated painting by Van Huysum with an outdoor background is from 1720.
With his technical virtuosity and precise observations of flowers and fruit, Van Huysum was able to convey both the varied rhythms of a striped tulip’s petal and the glistening sheen of its variegated surface. Just how he achieved these effects has never been precisely determined because he was a secretive artist who hid his artistic techniques from others. Nevertheless, it would seem that his paintings combine blossoms rendered from life and those derived from drawn models. In a letter to a patron in 1742, Van Huysum complained that he could not complete a still life that included a yellow rose until the flower blossomed the following spring.
Friedrich Schlie, “Sieben Briefe und eine Quittung von Jan van Huijsum,” Oud-Holland 18, no. 3 (1900): 141. The letter, dated July 17, 1742, was written to A. N. van Haften, agent for the Duke of Mecklenburg.
Maurice Harold Grant, Jan van Huysum, 1682–1749 (Leigh-on-Sea, 1954), no. 19, Vase of Flowers, 1723/1724; no. 162, Fruits and Flowers, 1732/1733.
An alteration made by the artist to an area that was already painted.
Van Huysum’s dynamic painting process is further revealed through infrared reflectography, which shows that he both left reserves for flowers and stalks that were never included in the final composition and also painted blooms for which he did not make a reserve, only to paint them out at a later stage. While such alterations and revisions may complicate our understanding of Van Huysum’s process, it is precisely the complex evolution of the present work that lends the floral arrangement such vigor and spontaneity.
Original entry by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., April 24, 2014.
Revised by Alexandra Libby to incorporate information from a new technical examination.
December 9, 2019
lower left on front of marble tabletop: Jan Van Huysum fecit
(Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam), by 1919 until at least 1920. Vas Diag, before 1924; (Leggatt Brothers, London); acquired 21 July 1924 by Lord Claud Hamilton; by inheritance to his widow, Lady Claud Hamilton; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 28 November 1975, no. 23); (Alexander Gallery, London); purchased 18 February 1977 by NGA.
- Collection Goudstikker d'Amsterdam, Pulchri Studio, The Hague, 1919, no. 13.
- Collection Goudstikker d'Amsterdam, Kunstkring, Rotterdam, 1920, no. 24.
- Spring Exhibition, Alexander Gallery, London, 1976.
- Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 1997, unnumbered brochure, repro.
- The Age of Opulence: Arts of the Baroque, Oklahoma City Art Museum, 1998-1999, brochure, repro.
The wood support is a single vertically grained plank that was thinned and cradled during a previous treatment.
Earlier technical summaries of this work were prepared by Melissa Katz and Catherine Metzger.
Multispectral infrared reflectography (MS-IRR) helped to reveal numerous changes in the composition.
Multispectral infrared reflectography: composite of three registered infrared images, in wavelength bands 1100–1400 nm (blue), 1500–1800 nm (green), and 2100–2400 nm (red). Courtesy of John Delaney, Kate Dooley, and Giorgio Trumpy, scientific research department, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
The support, ground, and paint layers are in good and stable condition. There is a small vertical check in the top edge, left of the center, that has been repaired. There is a fine craquelure pattern throughout, as well as small scattered losses. Previous restorers, in an effort to “reveal” pentimenti, overcleaned and greatly abraded the top background layers. During treatment in 2015, grime and a moderately thick, discolored, nonoriginal varnish layer was removed, as was some old overpaint. The painting was also revarnished and inpainted with stable and reversible materials.
Dina Anchin, based on the examination report by Kay Silberfeld.
December 9, 2019
- Goudstikker, Jacques. Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d'Amsterdam. Exh. cat. Pulchri Studio, The Hague. Haarlem, 1919: no. 13.
- Goudstikker, Jacques. Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d'Amsterdam. Exh. cat. Rotterdamsche Kunstkring. Rotterdam, 1920: no. 24.
- Grant, Maurice Harold. Jan van Huysum, 1682–1749. Leigh-on-Sea, 1954: no. 3.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 208, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 144-145, color repro. 143.
- Chrysler Museum of Art. Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch paintings from the National Gallery of Art. Exh. brochure. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk. Washington, 1997: unnumbered repro.
- Oklahoma City Art Museum. The Age of Opulence: Arts of the Baroque. Exh. brochure. Oklahoma City Art Museum, Oklahoma City, 1998: unnumbered repro.
- 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: 173, repro.
- 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: 173, repro.
- still life of plants and flowers
- vegetables and fruit
- artist +Jan Davidsz. de Heem + influence of