Lot 37
  • 37

Jan van Huysum Amsterdam 1682 - 1749

bidding is closed


  • Jan van Huysum
  • Still life of fruit upon a marble ledge, a bird's nest to the right and a basket of flowers above, insects throughout
  • signed lower left: Jan Van Huysum fecit
  • oil on panel


Maria Theresa (1717-1790), Archduchess of Austria, Holy Roman Empress, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia;
By whom reputedly presented, (together with a pendant of flowers in a vase), to her daughter Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) on the occasion of her marriage in 1770 to the Dauphin, later Louis XVI of France;
Reputedly presented by the above (together with its pendant) to Marie-Thérese Louise de Savoie-Carignan, Princesse Lamballe (1749-1792);
Offered London, European Museum, 29 December (and following days) 1806, lot 1928 (the pendant: lot 1929), both apparently unsold;
John Humble '...one of the principal proprietors of the European Museum, retiring from the concern'), his sale, London, Christie's, 27 February 1807, lot 92, for 450 gns, buyer unknown (the pendant: lot 93, 380 gns., buyer unknown);
Sir John Deas Thompson, by 1815;
His sale, London, Christie’s, 23 June 1838, lot 32, £340 to Farrer (the pendant: lot 33, bought by  Nieuwenhuis or Fuller);
Sir Andrew Fountaine IV (1808-1874) by 1838;
Thence by descent.


London, British Institution,1815, no. 138 (lent by Sir John Deas Thompson);
London, British Institution, 1828, no. 123 (lent by Sir John Deas Thompson);
London, British Institution, 1839, no. 11 (lent by Andrew Fountaine);
Norwich, Norwich Castle Museum, Dutch and Flemish Painting in Norfolk, 1988, no. 117.


J. Smith, A catalogue raisonné…, London 1842, supplement, p. 786, no.2 ;
C. Hofstede de Groot, A catalogue raisonné…, vol. X, London 1928. p. 382, no. 225;
Colonel M.H. Grant, Jan van Huysum 1682-1749, Leigh-on-Sea 1954, p. 29, no. 184, not illustrated;
A. Moore, Dutch and Flemish Painting in Norfolk, Norwich Castle Museum, exhibition catalogue, 1988, no. 117, p. 149, reproduced in colour, plate V.

Catalogue Note

This important but little known work by the leading still life painter of the eighteenth century last came to the market in 1838. It has a most distinguished provenance and belonged to the Empress Maria-Theresa, who reputedly presented it as a gift to her daughter, Marie-Antoinette, on the occasion of her marriage to the Dauphin, later Louis XVI.

The picture was painted during an important transitional period in the artist’s development, when he began to move away from the conventional approach of placing the still life elements of his compositions before neutral, dark backgrounds but before he began to employ light backgrounds with trees or garden settings.  This period from circa 1718 to circa 1722, is characterised by the use of relatively dark backgrounds enlivenend by trees or architecture, a great number of butterflies and other insects, and thin stalks of weeds.  Four works by the artist (two flower pieces and two fruit pieces), all formerly in the collection of Louis XVI and now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris date from this time and show these characteristics clearly.  One fruit piece in particular 1 displays notable similarities in composition with the present picture: it also has a wicker basket resting on a pile of fruit, to the left of the composition, a broadly similar arrangement of fruit and numerous butterflies and insects.   The other Louvre fruit piece 2 is also highly comparable, with an arrangement of fruit that is very similar and many of the same varieties of fruit and flowers, sometimes in similar places.  The fruit piece formerly in the Fattorini collection, sold in these Rooms in December 2003 for £4,400,000 3 also dates from this period and has a similar arrangement of leaves and fruit projecting in front of the marble ledge at the base of the composition.

It is the pictures that Van Huysum painted in this period from 1718-1722 that made his name and transformed him from a painter catering for the domestic market to one whose works were eagerly sought after in the most elevated circles of European society.  Charles-Jean Baptiste Fleuriau, Comte de Morville (1686-1732), French envoy to the Republic from 1718 to 1720 4 can lay claim to being the first champion of Van Huysum’s art in France, for he was, as Van Gool put it 5  “one of the first to have sought and admired his art.” The Comte de Morville purchased, at 1,200 guilders apiece, not only two flower still lifes for his own collection, but another two for the celebrated collection of the Duke of Orléans. At this point Jan van Huysum began to rise in the esteem of a number of contemporary French collectors, such as the Marquis d’Argenson and Blondel de Gagny, who had a preference for his flower still lifes. The English also took an interest in Jan van Huysum’s work, and here too De Morville may have played a role, since Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), one of the first collectors of Van Huysum’s work in England, purchased several works of art through De Morville.

In all early sale references this picture is accompanied by a pendant depicting flowers in a vase.  The catalogue entry for the 1806 sale (see provenance) provides the fullest description of the present lot and its companion:  'This superb performance, with the Flower Piece, its companion, were painted for the Empress of Germany, who presented them to her daughter, the unfortunate Marie-Antoinette, upon her marriage with Louis XVI.  The beautiful Princess Lamballe afterwards received them, as a token of grateful acknowledgement, for her fidelity and unshaken attachment to her amiable and heroic Sovereign'.  The pendant, the next lot in the sale, is described as 'a beautiful Bouquet of Flowers, most tastefully arranged, in a vase, elegantly ornamented with classical bas-relief figures; the insects, drops of water, &c: most admirably represented'. The early provenance of the present picture given in the catalogue entry would appear to be confirmed by the presence on the reverse of the panel of a wax seal with the arms of the Holy Roman Empire (fig. 1).

Maria-Theresa (fig. 2) was the only female ruler in 650 years of the Habsburg dynasty and played a significant role in strengthening and unifying the Austrian monarchy.  When she succeeded her father, Emperor Charles VI, in 1740 as a result of the 'Pragmatic Sanction' which had guaranteed her right of succession, she inherited a monarchy that was financially compromised.  The War of the Austrian Succession that followed left the Empire further weakened but through sound administrative and financial management and the building of new alliances she played a major role in transforming the Empire into a modern state.  In 1736 she married Francis Stephen of Lorraine (later Holy Roman Emperor Francis I) and with him had 16 children, including two future Emperors: Joseph II and Leopold II.  Although straitened financial circumstances restricted her role as a patron of the arts, she took a keen interest in reorganising the existing Imperial collections and establishing new collections in the field of the natural sciences.  She also commissioned some notable metalwork, including a gold breakfast service 6, but her activities as a collector of paintings is less well documented.  It is not known when the two still-lifes by Van Huysum entered the Imperial collection, but the claim made in the 1806 catalogue entry that they were commissioned by her must surely be incorrect.

The long hostilities between the Empire and Prussia (two Silesian wars, 1740-42, 1744-45, and the Seven Years War, 1756-63) led to a rapprochement with France, which culminated in the marriage of Maria-Theresa's daughter, Marie-Antoinette (fig. 3), to the future Louis XVI. There is no evidence other than the 1806 and subsequent catalogue entries to confirm that this picture and its companion were given by the Empress to her daughter on the occasion of her marriage.  Marie-Antoinette's interests lay principally with the decorative arts and she was not noted as an amateur of pictures.  The claim that the pictures were given by her to her closest friend and confidante, the Princesse Lamballe, also cannot be substantiated.  The association of the picture and its pendant with two of the most romantic and tragic figures of the Revolutionary period would certainly have added to their appeal in early 19th century England and one cannot rule out that the provenance of the paintings once they had left the Imperial collection may have been embellished or even fabricated.  Their subsequent history is, however, better documented and by 1815 the pictures had been acquired by Sir John Deas Thompson (1787-1843), accountant-general to the Royal Navy, in whose collection they remained until their sale in 1838.  At that point the paintings were separated.  The present picture was purchased by Andrew Fountaine IV (1808-1874) of Narford Hall, Norfolk, thence passing by family descent to the present owners.  Andrew Fountaine IV was the most significant collector at Narford since his forbear, Sir Andrew Fountaine II (1676-1753), a friend of Pope and Swift, who had built the house and acquired a large assemblage of pictures and objects on the Grand Tour, including one of the greatest collections of maiolica and Limoges enamels in Europe, which was dispersed in a four day sale in London in 1884. 7

The pendant was purchased at the Thompson sale by either Nieuwenhuis or Fuller but its subsequent history is unknown.   A full description of the picture is provided by Smith: 'A Bouquet, composed of roses of various hues, ranunculuses, hyacinths, marigolds, lilacs, tulips, and other flowers, grouped in a vase, adorned with a bas-relief of cupids. This picture may be recognized by a bunch of roses, which has fallen from the cluster and lies loosely on the table, on which are also two marigolds and a bunch of auriculas. Painted on a dark background' 8. No painting that completely satisfies this description has yet been traced.

We are grateful to Dr. Sam Segal for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.  Dr. Segal will include the painting in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Jan van Huysum.

1. Inventory no. 1388, panel, 80 x 61 cm, signed; Grant no. 139; museum catalogue Ecoles flamande et hollandaise, 1979, p. 75, illustrated

2. Inventory no. 1387, panel, 63 x 53 cm, signed;  Grant no. 150, museum catalogue as note before.

3. 11 December 2003, lot no. 75, panel, signed, 79.9 x 60.2 cm; Grant nos. 151 and 211.

4. O. Schutte, Repertorium der buitenlandse vertegenwoordigers, residerende in Nederland 1584-1810, The Hague 1983, pp. 22-23.

5. Johan van Gool, De Nieuwe Schouburg der Nederlandsche Kunstschilders en Schilderessen [. . .], II, The Hague 1751, p. 18.

6. Gold breakfast service by Anton Matthias Domanek, circa 1750, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Mueum, KK Inv. No. 1197 ff.

7. For a discussion of the collection see A. Moore, 'The Fountaine Collection of maiolica', in The Burlington Magazine, June 1988, vol. CXXX, number 1023, pp. 435-447.

8. J. Smith, A catalogue raisonné…, London 1842, supplement, p. 786, no.1; Colonel M.H. Grant, Jan van Huysum 1682-1749, Leigh-on-Sea 1954, p21, no. 50, as present whereabouts unknown.