This extraordinarily vivid still life is a bravura example of the art of Jan van Huysum. In the collection of the Marquesses and Dukes of Westminster since 1841, it has only been seen once in public since exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1870. Prior to the 1841 sale, it belonged to two of the most remarkable Dutch collectors of their day, Gerrit Braamcamp and Jan Jansz. Gildemeester. In both those collections this painting was accompanied by two other Van Husyums of identical proportions: that dated 1734 and subsequently in the Rothschild and Fattorini collections and sold, Sotheby's, 11 December 2003, lot 74 (£3,029,600), and that dated 1724 and subsequently in the Six collection, Amsterdam, and now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (inv. no. M.91.164.2). In the Gildemeester sale, the present and the Fattorini paintings were regarded as pendants. Aside from their differing compositions, the dates of the paintings precludes any of the three from having been intended as pendants. However, it was quite normal for still-life artists to paint pairs of fruit and of flowers and, in the absence of a real pair it has always been popular to hang independent depictions of the subjects as a matched pair, and indeed Van Huysum himself may have done so on occasion. It is an indication of this habit continuing that, the two having been separated by George Watson Taylor in 1823, the Fattorini painting was subsequently matched again with a companion of fruit by Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, with which it remained after their purchase by John Fattorini and until the 2003 sale, the fruit still life being sold as the subsequent lot 75 (£4,933,600).
Even more than the Los Angeles or either of the Fattorini pictures, the Westminster painting in any case depicts an arrangement of both flowers and fruit. Although none of the four were ever intended by Van Husyum to be anything other than a complete composition in its own right, the present painting represents the most complex - as well as the most abundant - composition of the group. That of the Fattorini flower still life, set against a niche and with a largely upright composition looks back to the tradition established by Bosschaert and Saverij (and represents arguably its most developed form), whilst the Los Angeles flower-piece is based around the baroque slanted S-shape developed by de Heem, Mignon and Van Aelst. The present composition is in many ways most similar in composition to the Fattorini fruit-piece, both being structured around diagonal lines. That of the present picture is more developed, however, by the clear lower-left to upper-right diagonal formed by the angle of the white grapes and the inclusion of the pink double hollyhocks. This in itself creates a more even distribution of the wealth of objects, but in addition the subtle positioning of (at the top) the dark leaves curling back from left to right against the open sky and the angle of the white hollyhocks and (at the bottom) the convolvulus stalk meeting the the curve of the leaf below the pomegranate form a much clearer link between the two crossed diagonal lines resulting in a still subtle but now legible figure-of-eight pattern, that encourages the eye to move more easily around the composition.
The very remarkable quality of this painting makes it perhaps unsurprising that it appears to have been singled out for priase when in Gerrit Braamcamp's collection. Clara Bille, in her authoritative account of that latter (loc. cit.), details two occasions on which a specific painting by Van Huysum was singled out for praise in the collection, but appears erroneously to assume that the work in question was the Fattorini flower piece. In the first instance, Braamcamp was visited by Mme. de Bocage on 30 June 1750, who wrote of her tour that it had been arranged 'à nous montrer le cabinet de M. Grankam, riche en tableaux Flamands, possesseur du plus beau morceau de Wanuzzen (Excellent Peintre de fleurs) que j'aye vu'. The second was the visit in 1763 of Caroline Louise, Margravine von Baden, who particularly admired a Van Husyum desscribed as 'à la branche d'orange', which she subsequently tried to purchase from Braamcamp through her agent, the banker Eberts. Bille identifies both references as representing the Fattorini painting, on the grounds of the orange blossom in the lower right of that work. In reality, however, this would appear in the first case to be unknowable and in the second a poosible mistake. The de Bocage reference could refer to any of Braamcamp's Huysums, including the present work; Bille is right that the Fattorini and LACMA paintings were acquired the previous year in the sale of paintings from the artist's estate in 1749, however, there is no reason - indeed it is even unlikely - given Braamcamp's involvement with contemporary artists that those were the first works by the artist to enter his collection. It is equally likely that he already owned other examples, possibly even purchased directly from the artist. In the absence of further evidence, therefore, it is not possible to know to which picture she was referring (it is interesting to note that when the Fattorini and LACMA paintings were sold in 1749, the LACMA picture received the more glowing description and achieved the slightly higher price, suggesting that it was, if any, the more admired at the time). There is certainly no reason necessarily to connect Mme de Bocage's favourite with the picture admired by the Margravine von Baden thirteen years later.
Eberts' description of the latter work is also ambiguous: 'Cela ma valu des compliments mais non le beau Van Huysum à la branche d'orange que je marchande depuis 3 ans, c'est le plus brillant que je connoisse'. The 'branche d'orange' could refer to a sprig of orange blossom; however, is his letter of 28 August 1763 encouraging the Margravine to visit, Eberts noted that she would see amongst others 'des Van Huysum de la dernière beauté, et en grand nombre. M d'Argenson a offert à M. Braamkamp tout ce qu'il demanderoit pour les Huysums, mais il ne vend point; cependant il veut bien troquer et comme le Comte [de Schmettau] disoit, qu'il en manquoit à Votre Altesse un en fruits, Braamcamp veut bien troquer.' From this one can infer that the main picture was likely to have been one of fruits, not flowers. As noted by Dr. Sam Segal (private correspondence, 22 May 2005), 'The paintings of Caroline Louise are now in the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, [including] the painting which is signed and dated 1714, an early flower piece by Jan van Huysum. The fruit piece, about the same size, would have been its ideal "companion", though not in periodic style.' (It is also interesting that she seemed still to pursue her desire for a matched pair as 'she bought another Jan van Huysum in the sale of the art dealer Willem Lormier, 4th July 1763 in The Hague, no. 127, a smaller flower piece with fruit, on a panel, for 1,000 guilders: "Bloemen en Vrugten, door denzelven; D. breet en hoog als 't vorige" The size given is 1 voet 7¼ duim x 1 voet 3½ duim, corresponding with c. 50.4 x 40.6 cm.'). The only two fruit pieces in Braamcamp's collection were the present painting and the Delft bowl with fruit now in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London (inv. no. 42), sold in 1771 as by Jan, but in actual fact by Michiel van Huysum and therefore highly unlikely ever to have been regarded as one of the jewels of the collection. Neither picture contains orange blossom, but if one hypothesizes that the description is a corrupt or archaic rendition of 'la branche orange', of which there is a prominent example in the present painting, then it would seem more likely that the present painting is in fact that referred to by Eberts and so desired by the Margravine.
Little is known of Van Huysum's working methods, but his compositions seem to have been developed at least in part from preparatory drawings. A number of these are known, but the paucity of demonstrable prototypes suggest that for the most part the artist used them as general ideas that provided him with inspiration for his paintings rather than as direct compositional blueprints. Thus, for example, there are a few identifiable sketches that can relate to the present composition, and that one might hypothesize represent ideas practised by the artist that he subsequently used and adapted for this and similar compositions, for example the Still life of fruit and flowers of 1730 sold, Christie's, New York, 12 January 1994, lot 129 ($2,642,500; interestingly also for long paired with a Still life of flowers: that sold, Sotheby's, New York, 17 January 1992, lot 96 [$3,520,000]) . The closest drawings would appear to be that in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (see fig. 1; inv. no. PD421/1963; C. White, The Flower Drawings of Jan van Huysum, Leigh-on-Sea, 1964, p. 14, no. 18, fig. 10); in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. no. A.4272; ibid., p. 13, no. 3, fig. 3); and in particular that in the British Museum, London (inv. no. 18126.96.36.1999; ibid., p. 15, no. 28, fig. 15), which might represent an intermediary thought between the Fattorini fruit-piece and the present painting.
One major compositional advance developed by Van Huysum and of crucial importance in his work is the employment referred to above of a light (and frequently open-air) background in his works. This represented a significant departure from the flat, neutral background that had theretofore been traditional - even in 1707 Gerard de Lairesse recommended that flower painters 'do not use white, yellow, nor red backgrounds, but somber gray' (Groot schilderboek, Amsterdam, 1707, revised edn., Haarlem, 1740, reprinted Doornspijk, 1969, 2, p. 261) - and that appeared in his earlier works. It was related a little after Van Huysum's death (R. van Eijnden and A. van der Willigen, Geschiedenis der Vaderlandsche Schilderkunst, Haarlem, 1816, I, pp. 312-3, quoted in translation from P. Taylor, Dutch Flower Painting, 1600-1720, New Haven, 1995, p. 191) that one of his friends, the art critic Lambert ten Kate, suggested to the artist that his 'backgrounds be kept light precisely in order to give the fruit and flowers in front of them a better effect. Eventually Van Huysum yielded to his friend's repeated advice; and it was entirely due to the feeling and recommendation of Ten Kate that he completely changed his manner from then onward, and saw the value of his pieces climb as a result from a hundred or two hundred guilders to a thousand, yes, to five thousand guilders.'
It is not known exactly when this development happened, and it was probably rather more gradual a change than Van Eijnden and Van der Willigen's anecdote suggest, but a comparison with two paintings by Van Huysum in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, a Still life of flowers and a Still life of fruit, both dated 1722 (inv. nos. 82.PB.70 and 82.PB.71 respectively) and each very developed examples of either tradition, suggests that this very significant and influential transition was occurring at around that time in his career. This change was significantly to influence Van Huysum's contemporaries as well as those later artists following his style through much of the following century, evident for example in the work of his brothers Jacobus and Michiel, or of artists such as Jan and Jacob van Os, Gerard and Cornelis van Spaendock, Paul Theodore van Brussel, Wybrand Hendriks and Jacobus Linthorst. With regard to the prices achieved for his new works, the 5,000 guilders (or florins) must have been exceptional, but several payments above 1,000 are recorded, including by the collector Valerius Röver of Delft, who paid 1,450 guilders for a flower-piece and 1,005 guilders for a fruit-piece. Furthermore it was only 22 years after Van Huysum's death that Jan Jansz. Gildermeester paid 4,100 guilders for the present painting at the sale of Gerrit Braamcamp's estate.
Sadly, for the same reasons that we know little about how Van Huysum developed his compositions, there is a dearth of information on his painting methods. The artist was celebrated by his early biographers for his secrecy, bordering later in life on paranoia, concerning his artistic methods. Even his own brothers were forbidden from his studio for fear that anybody, however close, might see how he mixed and applied his paints. He only employed one pupil in his life, Margaretha Havermann (1720-1795) and that exception, made according to Christian Josi (Collection d'imitations des dessins d'après les principaux maîtres hollandais et flamands, etc., Amsterdam/London, 1821) because of the pleadings of his uncle, only exacerbated his fears. Havermann was forced to leave Amsterdam due to a 'faiblesse', presumably an improper romantic association, and returned to Paris where she is recorded as having been greatly sought after as an artist, although her name has since lapsed into obscurity. Thereafter Van Huysum became ever more secretive, the dissolute activities of his son apparently driving him almost to becoming a recluse.
The only other indication of Van Huysum's working method is provided by a letter of 17 July 1742 that he wrote to the Duke of Mecklenburg in which he explained the delay in a picture commissioned by the Duke by the fact that he was unable to find a yellow rose that year. This corroborates contemporary accounts of Van Huysum having strictly worked from direct models - a group of flower studies, clearly after life, are in the British Museum, but these do not appear to have been used as models for any details in his pictures, and may even be by one of his immediate relations rather than by Jan himself - and echoes Josi's anecdote of Van Huysum having travelled to Haarlem every year, where flower growers were careful to provide him with all the specimens that he required. That he would leave pictures unfinished for months at a time until he could acquire a necessary model in season also explains the fact that several of his pictures are dated twice, for example that of Flowers in a terracotta vase in the National Gallery, London (inv. no. 796), signed and dated 'Jan Van Huijsum fecit 1736 en. 1737'.
Whatever his methods, there is no question that Van Huysum quickly established himself as one of the most sought-after artists of his day. The prices his works reached have already been referred to, and his patrons included the highest dignitaries in Europe. Jacob Campo Weyerman (De Levens-Beschryvingen der Nederlandsche Konst-Schilders en Konst-Schilderessen, The Hague, 1729) referred to him as the 'Phoenix of Flower Painters' and he received commissions from, among others, the duc d'Orléans, Prince William of Hesse-Kassel, Frederick-Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, and King Frederick William I of Prussia. The eighteenth-century commentator George Vertue even went as far as to describe six paintings by Van Huysum that he saw in the collection of a Mr. Lockyears of South Sea House as 'the most inimitable pictures that were ever seen.' The appeal remains evident today, from the extraordinarily abundant compositions and the masterful renditions of texture - for example details such as the different surfaces of the leaf in the upper centre - to the extravagant assemblage of subjects. Particularly engaging are the plethora of trompe l'oeil details: the numerous insects dotted around the composition, the jewel-like drops of water, the pips showing through the partially translucent grapes and berries and, a favourite conceit of the artist, the partially obscured signature.
Given the outstanding quality of this painting, it is not surprising that it should have been acquired by four collectors of such particular distinction as Gerrit Braamcamp, Jan Jansz. Gildemeester, George Watson Taylor and the 1st Marquess of Westminster. The eldest son of Jan Braamcamp (c. 1671-1713), who settled in Amsterdam and became a successful wine merchant, Gerrit Braamcamp joined the family business which after the death of his parents he greatly expanded. His consequent wealth enabled him to assemble a renowned art collection that by the late 1760s included some 380 works. Braamcamp's main interest was the Dutch seventeenth century, owning such works as Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), Gabriel Metsu's Old Woman with a Book by a Window (National Gallery, London), Philips Wouwerman's Knight Vanquishing Time, Death and Monstrous Demons (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Gerard Ter Borch's Card Players (County Museum of Art, Los Angeles), as well as notable works by many others of the great names of the period, for example Gerrit Dou, Nicolaes Berchem, Paulus Potter, Jan Steen and Jan van der Heyden. The posthumous sale of his collection in 1771 included no less than eight paintings by Van Huysum including two in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, and one in the National Gallery, London.
Jan Jansz. Gildemeester's father was a merchant and Consul-General in Lisbon until the mid-1750s, when he returned to Amsterdam to set up a trading company with his sons Daniel and Jan Jansz; in 1778 the Dutch Republic appointed the latter as agent and Consul-General to Portugal, although he remained in Amsterdam. In 1792 Jan Jansz. moved from the Keizergracht to the Herengracht in Amsterdam, where his extensive art collection had a setting worthy of it: Adriaan de Lelie's painting of the collection (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) gives an accurate record of the display of the paintings, which were spread all over the house. Gildemeester's taste followed the contemporary Dutch fashion: his collection included the best representatives of Dutch and Flemish 17th and 18th century art of which perhaps the most celebrated today are Frans Hals's Laughing Cavalier (Wallace Collection, London) and Vermeer's Astronomer (musée du Louvre, Paris). It also included ten paintings by Van Huysum (for example the Flowers in a Terracotta Vase in the National Gallery, London, also formerly in the Braamcamp collection) as well as works by Gerrit Dou (A lady playing the clavierchord; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London), Pieter de Hooch (A lady preparing bread and butter for a boy; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), Adriaen van de Velde (The Shepherdesses, Royal Collection, Windsor Castle), Rubens, Jan Steen, Philips Wouwerman, Jacob Ruisdael and Gabriel Metsu.
George Watson Taylor (1770-1841) was one of the foremost collectors in England in the early 19th century, whose collection of old master paintings and ancien régime furniture was only rivalled by those of King George IV and the 10th Duke of Hamilton. Watson Taylor was the son of a West Indian planter, and was initially of relatively modest means but in 1810 married Anna Taylor, the daughter of a much wealthier planter who eventually inherited not only her father's but also her brother's vast fortunes. In a remarkably short time, Watson-Taylor amassed a magnificent collection of paintings advised by William Seguier, the first director of the National Gallery in London that included such works as Parmigianino's Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome, Elsheimer's Tobias and the Archangel Raphael Returning with the Fish, Teniers' series of The Four Seasons, Hogarth's The Shrimp Girl, Emanuel de Witte's Adriana van Heusden and her daughter at the New Fishmarket in Amsterdam (all National Gallery, London) and Rubens' Rainbow Landscape (Wallace Collection, London). The collection was divided equally between his Cavendish Square townhouse and Erlestoke Park, his country seat. His fall from financial grace was, however, as rapid as his rise, and the collection was sold in a series of sales in 1823, 1825 and a twenty day house sale in 1832.
The present picture was bought at the 1823 sale by the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, who in 1831 was created 1st Marquess of Westminster. The heir to substantial property in Cheshire and to the Grosvenor Estate in London, he also inherited the collection formed by his father including the forty-two Old Masters bought for him in Italy in 1758-9 by Richard Dalton, librarian to the Prince of Wales (later George III) as well as commissions from artists such as Stubbs, West, Gainsborough and Hogarth. The 2nd Earl's purchase in 1805 of Grosvenor House in London was the catalyst for an extraordinary campaign of acquisition of works of art of which the most remarkable was the 1806 en bloc purchase of the collection of Welbore Agar Ellis for 30,000 guineas. This included a celebrated group of landscapes by Claude, of which Evening and Morning (both Westminster collection) were considered the most remarkable as well as paintings of the calibre of Raphael's Madonna of the Veil (New Jersey, University Art Museum, Princeton) and Velázquez's Riding School (Westminster collection). Another notable acquisition of 1806 was Rubens' altarpiece of The Adoration of the Magi (King's College, Cambridge), bought at the sale of pictures acquired by the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne. Grosvenor was also advised on his purchases by Seguier and under his guidance continued to acquire such masterpieces as, in 1809, Gainsborough's Blue Boy (Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California).
We are very grateful to Dr. Sam Segal for his assistance in the cataloguing of the present picture. Please note also that the loan of this picture has been requested for the exhibition on Van Huysum to be held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, in Spring 2007.