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.
Jan van Huysum was unmatched in his ability to capture the sheer joy of viewing a profuse array of flowers and fruit. In this superb example, flowers overflow a putti-decorated terra-cotta vase while peaches and grapes spill over the foreground marble ledge, creating 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 large red bud of the opium poppy, flanked by a hollyhock and a tuberose, anchors the crown of the bouquet.
Van Huysum’s lasting fame has centered not only on his exuberant arrangements, but also on his technical virtuosity. He could convey both the undulating rhythms of a striped tulip’s petal and the glistening sheen of its variegated surface. He skillfully integrated insects into his bouquets and suggested the translucence of dewdrops on the petals and leaves. He delighted in enhancing the flowers’ vivid colors—primarily pinks, yellows, oranges, reds, and purples—with striking light effects that add to the visual richness. As in this instance, he often illuminated blossoms situated at the back of the bouquet, against which he silhouetted darker foreground leaves and tendrils.
This painting is especially rich in its profusion of flowers and insects. Sam Segal has identified in this work some forty varieties of flowers, eight types of butterflies, and seven species of other insects.
Sam Segal, The Temptations of Flora: Jan van Huysum, 1682–1749, trans. Beverley Jackson (Delft and Houston, 2007), 154, no. F5.
Van Huysum derived his compositional ideals and technical prowess from the examples of two important predecessors,
The dark background of this painting is characteristic of works the artist produced in the second decade of the eighteenth century, as, for example, a flower piece in Karlsruhe, dated 1714, that depicts a bouquet in a dark niche
This comment by Herman Tollius (1742–1822) was published by Roeland van de Eijnden and Adriaan van der Willigen, Geschiedenis der Vaderlandsche Schilderkunst (Haarlem, 1816), 1, 312–313: “Deze schilderde zijne Bloem- en Fruit- stukken lang op donkere gronden, op welke hij meende, dat dezelve beter uitkwamen en spraken. Ieder roemde deze stukken als voortreffelijk, als onverbeterlijk.” Translated in Paul Taylor, Dutch Flower Painting, 1600–1720 (New Haven and London, 1995), 191.
Van Huysum was reputedly a secretive artist who forbade anyone, including his own brothers, to enter his studio for fear that they would learn how he purified and applied his colors.
This information comes from Van Huysum’s biographer, Jan van Gool, De nieuwe schouburg der Nederlantsche kunstschilders en schilderessen, 2 vols. (The Hague, 1751), 2:31–32. For a thoughtful assessment of this account, see Mariël Ellens and Sam Segal, “Jan van Huysum: His Life and Family,” in Sam Segal, The Temptations of Flora: Jan van Huysum, 1682–1749, trans. Beverley Jackson (Delft and Houston, 2007), 21. For information about Van Huysum’s painting techniques, see Joris Dik, “Jan van Huysum’s Painting Technique,” in Sam Segal, The Temptations of Flora: Jan van Huysum, 1682–1749, trans. Beverley Jackson (Delft and Houston, 2007), 69–74.
Sam Segal, The Temptations of Flora: Jan van Huysum, 1682–1749, trans. Beverley Jackson (Delft and Houston, 2007), 47 n. 29.
Sam Segal, The Temptations of Flora: Jan van Huysum, 1682–1749, trans. Beverley Jackson (Delft and Houston, 2007), 47.
Friedrich Schlie, “Sieben Briefe und eine Quittung von Jan van Huijsum,” Oud-Holland 18, no. 3 (1900): 141.
According to Segal, “No sources suggest that Jan ever lived anywhere outside Amsterdam, but he maintained contact with flower growers in Haarlem who supplied him with material for his garden (Van Gool). Some authors state that he went to Haarlem every summer for this reason,”. Sam Segal, The Temptations of Flora: Jan van Huysum, 1682–1749, trans. Beverley Jackson (Delft and Houston, 2007), 16. Only 19.7 kilometers (12.2 miles) separate Amsterdam from Haarlem, and with documented speeds of 5–7 kilometers per hour, Jan van Huysum would have traveled the distance in 2.45 to 3. 55 minutes.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower left: Jan Van Huysum fecit
Baron Louis de Rothschild [1882-1955], Vienna. 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.
- From Botany to Bouquets: Flowers in Northern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999, no. 19, fig. 60.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 212-213, no. 171, color 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: no. 5, 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: no. 5, repro.
The support panel consists of a single plank of oak 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 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
 The characterization of the wood is based on visual examination only.
 Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focal plane array InSb camera fitted with H and J astronomy filters.
Related IconClass Terms
- vanitas still life
- still life of plants and flowers
- vegetables and fruit
- trompe l'oeil
- artist +Jan Davidsz. de Heem + student of