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Important Old Master Paintings

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Jan van Huysum
Amsterdam 1682 - 1749
AMSTERDAM 1682 - 1749
FLOWERS IN A TERRACOTTA VASE ON A MARBLE LEDGE
signed lower right Jan Van Húysúm / fecit
oil on mahogany panel
31 1/2 by 24 in.; 80 by 61 cm.
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Provenance

Jan and Peter Bisshcop, Rotterdam;
Their sale, Rotterdam, June 5-6, 1771, p. 24;
J. van der Ende, Amsterdam;
By whom sold in 1776, for 8,400 guilders, to John Hope (1737 - 1784), Amsterdam (inventory of ca. 1784);
Thence by descent to his son, Henry Philip Hope, (d. 1839), who moved to London (inventories 1795, 1810);
Thence by inheritance to his nephew, Henry Thomas Hope (1808 - 1862), who installed them in his country house Deepdene by 1835 (still there in 1854);
Sir Carl Meyer (d. 1922), London;
Thence to his widow Adele Lady Meyer, Chipstead Place, Kent, and London;
By whose Estate sold, London, Christie's, May 30, 1930, lot 144, for £1,995, to Leggatt (the pendant was sold separately as lot 145; see Fig. 2);
Mrs. Whitelaw Reid, by 1931;
Thence by descent in her family;
By whom (anonymously) sold, New York, Sotheby's, January 17, 1992, lot 6;
There acquired by the present owners.

Exhibited

London, British Institution, 1815, no. 109 (with pendant no. 107);
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Still-Life Paintings from the Netherlands 1550 - 1720, June 19, 1999 - January 9, 2000, pp. 283 - 286, cat. no. 78;
Greenwich, CT, The Bruce Museum; Fort Worth, TX, Kimbell Art Museum, The Floral Art of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, July 20, 2002-March 2, 2003, cat. no. 2, pp. 9, 38-39.

Literature

J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent, Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, vol. VI, London 1835, no. 76 (with a pendant);
G. F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, vol. 2, London 1854, p. 124 (with a pendant);
C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, vol. 10, London 1928, no. 94;
M. H. Grant, Jan van Huysum 1682 - 1749 including a Catalogue Raisonné of the Artist's Fruit & Flower Paintings, Leigh-on-Sea 1954, p. 21, no. 55;
J. W. Niemeijer, 'De Kunstverzameling van John Hope (1737 - 1784)', in Nederlands Kuntshistorisch Jaarboek 32, 1981, p. 185;

Catalogue Note

This panel, a masterpiece of Dutch still life, epitomizes the achievements of Jan van Huysum, the greatest Dutch flower painter of the 18th century.  Van Huysum was heir to the longest tradition of still life and flower painting in Europe, placing himself in continuity with such artists as Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Willem van Aelst and Rachel Ruysch.  Van Huysum nonetheless radically altered this tradition, such that subsequent genrations of still life painters such as Van Spaendonck and Van Os, right into the mid-19th Century, are completely indebted to his style and his innovations.  Van Huysum introduced a completely new and much lighter palette to flower painting, aided by newly discovered pigments, and this transformation of colour extends throughout his pictures, so that often luminous backgrounds are completely unlike anything seen before.  With a radically altered palette comes a completely different approach to lighting still life:  Van Huysum's mature pictures are suffused with light, avoiding the strong directional lighting and chiaroscuro of his predecessors, and in mature works such as this one, illuminating the background.

Another way in which van Huysum breaks from this tradition is his approach to his subject matter.  For one thing his compositions include flowers at various stages of blooming, and for another, in contrast to his 17th Century forbears, he does not combine flowers which could not have bloomed at the same time.  The sheer variety of flowers, plants and insects included in the composition at hand would be an almost overwhelming experience for the viewer if winding branches and stems did not lead our eye from one flower to the next, allowing us effortlesly to comprehend the elaborate composition.

Artful he may have been, and highly sophisticated in his compositional arrangements, but Van Huysum remained scientifically accurate in his depictions.  Over thirty different varieties of plants and flowers are depicted here, all of which can be specifically identified.  The plethora of insects were also the object of careful study: for example, each vein of the flies’ wings was minutely observed and faithfully reproduced.  This precise, detailed naturalism is juxtaposed with the sometimes exaggeratedly decorative lines and twirls of the branches, as well as some considerable liberties taken with the rules of perspective.  For example, the angle at which we see the bird’s nest is slightly tilted in order to allow for the best view of the meticulously painted twigs, feathers and eggs.  The flowers themselves have much to offer an attentive observer: from the tightly closed buds at the end of the larkspur branch in the upper right corner to the paper-thin petals of the central rose or the thick, rich ones of the deep red and white “baguette” tulip, the artist has spared no effort to display his technical skill.

The luxuriant flower arrangement is set against a background that evokes an elegant country residence in the classical style, which marks a departure from van Huysum’s earlier habit of using dark backgrounds, following the precepts of the day, such as the advice given by Gerard de Lairesse’s in 1707: “With flowers do not use white yellow or red backgrounds but somber gray.”  The shift to a lighter background most likely occurred around 1720, following a piece of advice from van Huysum’s friend, the art critic Lambert ten Kate: “He recommended that the background be kept light in order to achieve a better effect of the fruit and flowers in front.”  In this case, the softness of tone used for the background allows for the emphasis to truly be on the flower arrangement, while the evocation of a stylish setting further stresses the precious quality of the painting, and in turn acts as a compliment to the taste and refinement of the owner of the painting, who might have had a very similar residence.

The composition is built around what might be called a "light axis," which runs diagonally across the flower arrangement and is focused around the central white rose.  The light diffused through the composition seems to emanate from the light-colored flowers in and around the center of the composition, and radiate towards the more vibrant colored flowers above and below, which is a device the artist used many times in his career (see examples in the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge and Hermitage, St Petersburg). 

This picture is very much a product of its age in terms of the appeal it had when it was painted:  flowers were for the most part luxurious and costly items, much in fashion in the 17th and 18th centuries.  But, more specifically, we know from contemporary reports that several of the species depicted here were particularly fashionable in the 1720’s; for instance, we know that the auricula, which are the small flowers in three different colors around the center of the composition, was extremely popular throughout the first half of the 18th century.  Moreover, the so-called cabbage rose, featured twice, was van Hyusum's signature flower.  The artist reached the peak of his fame and fortune around the time when this picture was painted.

This panel was painted alongside a companion piece featuring fruit and flowers, and dated to the year 1730 (illustrated in Cleveland Museum of Art, Still-Life Paintings from the Netherlands 1550 - 1720, p. 284, fig. 78a, see Exhibited below).  The two paintings belonged to the famed Hope collection for almost a century, and were separated as late as 1930, when Leggatt purchased the present lot from a Christie's sale for £1,995 (see Provenance below).  It was customary for van Huysum to pair two such pieces, as did many of his fellow flower painters, such as Rachel Ruysch and many of his 17th Century predecessors.

This picture belonged with its pendant to the Scottish-Dutch family Hope, who for generations had an astonishing collection of Dutch pictures.  Originally from Scotland, the Hopes became bankers in Amsterdam, before moving to England in the 19th Century and settling at Deepdene, where the collection hung for a large part of the 19th Century.

This painting has been requested for the Jan van Huysum exhibition in Delft from the end of September, 2006 through January 7, 2007 and in Houston from February 18, 2007 through May 13, 2007.

Important Old Master Paintings

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New York