This important but little known work by the leading still life painter of the eighteenth century has a most distinguished provenance, for it belonged to the celebrated collection of the Counts Czernin von Chudenitz in Vienna throughout the 19th and for the first half of the 20th centuries. It is one of a relatively small number of flower or fruit still lifes that van Huysum painted on a copper support, a medium which lends his already meticulous handling an even greater fluidity and richness. Together with the example in the Staatliches Museum, Schwerin,1 with which it shares a similar design and niche background, it is van Huysum's largest and most ambitious work on copper and can rightly be considered amongst his most brilliant masterpieces.
The picture was painted during an important transitional period in the artist's development, circa 1718, when he started depicting light falling between the flowers of the bouquet while still retaining a dark background. The composition is a development of the basic design an earlier flower piece of 1714, today in the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, but which is still firmly rooted in the late 17th century Dutch tradition. In addition to the example mentioned above in Schwerin, the present work's more transitional style can also be closely compared with the Still life of flowers and fruit of the same size, but on panel, in the Edward and Sally Speelman collection.2 All three works depict an extravagant bouquet on a plain pedestal before a dark niche, itself slightly illuminated inside at the lower right, and the bouquet arranged along a vertical undulating axis, its key points highlighted by carefully placed white or bright pink flowers; at the top with, in the case of the present picture and the Speelman example, a purple and white variegated tulip; in the middle by closely bunched white and pink roses, and nearer to the bottom by either a similar starkly lit rose or peony. The use of such a large copper panel as a support is unusual and may well have indicated a prestigious commission. As Segal has noted, Van Huysum chose the supports for his paintings with meticulous care. His initial use of canvas was increasingly abandoned in favour of oak or mahogany panels, with a particular use of the latter or copper supports for smaller works. Good examples of the latter, probably dating from the 1730s, may be found, for example, in the Musée Fabre in Montpelier.3
This painting is first recorded in 1805 in the celebrated collection of Count Johann Rudolf Czernin von Chudenitz (1747-1835), perhaps the greatest collector in the Hapsburg Empire in the early 19th century. No doubt as a result of his extensive travels around Europe in the 1780s, Czernin began collecting around 1800, and continued to add to his collection right up to his death in 1845. His most famous acquisition was undoubtedly Vermeer's Artist's studio today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and regarded as one of the painter's greatest works, although at the time of its purchase in 1813 it was attributed to Pieter de Hooch. Other significant acquisitions included Titian's Portrait of the Doge Andrea Gritti and Albrecht Durer's Portrait of a cleric, both today in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The collection was latterly housed in a new palace on Josef Städler Glacis, today Friedrich Scmidt Platz, and indeed remained open to the public for a century after Johann Rudolf's death. Czernin's prominence as a connoisseur of the arts resulted in his appointment as President of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and a year later in 1824, as Chamberlain at the Imperial Court he was entrusted with overseeing the imperial collections of the Emperor Franz II. A friend of Goethe, his interests extended to the theatre, architecture, music, literature and landscape gardening. At his death he had also amassed a collection of over 2,000 engravings. The Van Huysum was thus a relatively early acquisition by Johann Rudolf. Although the earliest sources record it as being painted on copper, later writers such as Smith and following him Hofstede de Groot, have mistakenly recorded its support as panel. The painting clearly enjoyed some early fame, for it was engraved by Johann Peter Pichler in the year of its purchase. Pichler's engraving states that the Czernin painting was a pendant to another Van Huysum then in the Liechtenstein princely collections, although this was, in fact, on canvas and of different dimensions.
It was to be the pictures such as this that were painted in this transitional period from 1718-1722 that transformed Van Huysum's fame as a flower painter brought him an extensive international clientele. He received commissions from Frederick William I, King of Prussia, Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, the Duc D'Orléans, Prince William of Hesse-Kassel. Early contemporary collectors and admirers of his work included the Comte de Morville (1686-1732) and Blondel de Gagny among the French and among the English Sir Horace Walpole (1676-1745) commissioned four paintings from him, and his compatriot Sir Gregory Page no less than six. Van Huysum had only one pupil and no serious rival to his reputation. Reputedly a reclusive character, according to Johan van Gool, his first biographer, he jealously guarded the secret of his technique. Van Gool records that '......he (Van Huysum) was so grudging and secretive about the way he produced his art that he never admitted anyone to his studio when he was engaged in his art, not even his own brothers'.4
1. See S. Segal et al., The Temptations of Flora, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle/Delft/Houston 2007, pp. 144-6, no. F2, reproduced.
2. Ibid., pp. 150-53, no. F4.
3. Ibid., p. 221, no. F23, reproduced.
4. De nieuwe Schouburg der nederlandtsche Kunstschilders en schilderessen, The Hague, 1751, pp. 31-32.
Oil on copper
Jan van Huysum
Bern, Berner Kunstmuseum, Europäische Barokmalerie aus Weiner Privatgalerien Czernin Harrach Schwarzenberg, 21 December 1947 - 31 March 1948, cat. no. 98;
Birmingham, City Museum and Art Gallery, Some Dutch cabinet pictures of the 17th century, 26 August - 8 October 1950, no. 32;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Winter Exhibition, European Masters of the 18th Century, 1954, no. 338 (lent by Morris);
London, The Hallsborough Gallery, Exhibition of Fine Paintings of Four Centuries, 29 April - 29 June 1957, no. 19.
31 by 23 3/4 in.; 79 by 60.5 cm.
C. Bertuch, Bemerkungen auf einer Reise aus Thüringen nach Wien, 1805/6, p. 1666ff.;
J. Smith, A catalogue raisonné..., London 1836, vol. VI, p. 482, no. 84 (as on panel and with incorrect dimensions);
A. Perger, Oesterreichische Blätter für Literatur und Kunst, 1853, p. 263ff.;
G.F. Waagen, Die Vornehmsten Kunstdenkmäler in Wien, Vienna 1866, p. 298, no. 21;
U. Thieme, F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, vol. XVIII, Leipzig 1925, p. 208;
C. Hofstede de Groot, A catalogue raisonné..., vol. X, London 1928, p. 354, no. 75 (as on panel and with incorrect dimensions);
K. Wilczek, Katalog der Graf Czernin'schen Gemäldegalerie in Wien, Vienna 1936, no. 170, reproduced plate 41;
Colonel M. H. Grant, Jan van Huysum 1682-1749, Leigh-on-Sea 1954, p. 19, no. 35 (as on panel);
S. Segal et al., The Temptations of Flora, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle/Delft/Houston 2007, reproduced p. 151, fig. F4.2.
By Johann Peter Pichler, 1805.
Count Johann Rudolf Czernin von Chudenitz (1747-1845), Vienna, by 1805;
Thence by descent in the Czernin collections until at least 1948;
With Clifford Duits, London, by 1950;
Morris collection, London, 1954;
With The Hallsborough Gallery, London, by 1957;
With Leonard Koetser Ltd., London, from whom acquired by Lord and Lady Forte on 18 April 1972.