Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Utrecht 1606-1684 Antwerp)
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Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Utrecht 1606-1684 Antwerp)

A tulip, roses, apple blossoms, cornflowers and other flowers in a glass vase on a stone ledge, with a pipe, taper, oysters and an orange, with a butterfly

Details
Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Utrecht 1606-1684 Antwerp)
A tulip, roses, apple blossoms, cornflowers and other flowers in a glass vase on a stone ledge, with a pipe, taper, oysters and an orange, with a butterfly
signed 'J D.De Heem. fecit' (lower right, on the ledge)
oil on panel, unframed
18¾ x 15¾ in. (47.6 x 40 cm.)
Provenance
Baroness zu Guttenberg, before 1948.
with Schaeffer Galleries, New York, 1948, by whom sold to the following with John Nicholson Gallery, New York, where acquired by the following
Dr. Louis A. Witzeman, Akron, Ohio, 1949, and by inheritance to the current owners.
Special notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.
Sale room notice
We are grateful to Rollo Whately Ltd., for the loan of the French late 17th/early 18th century Louis XIII carved and gilded running pattern frame.
Please contact a member of the department for further details.

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Lot Essay

A leading still-life painter of the Golden Age, Jan Davidsz. de Heem had a peripatetic career, exemplifying the tendency of seventeenth-century artists to move between the Northern and Southern Netherlands, even as the region splintered due to the Dutch revolt against Spain. Through his frequent relocations, de Heem gained exposure to a rich variety of still-life imagery that fueled his creation of dazzling, innovative paintings celebrated for their dynamism and extraordinarily fine naturalistic detail. Among them is the present work, a striking still-life depicting a vase of brightly-coloured blooms resting on a ledge against a dark background and accompanied by smoking instruments, oysters and an orange.

De Heem was born to a Catholic family in Utrecht, home to a rich tradition of still-life painting propelled by artists such as Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573-1621), Roelandt Savery (1576-1639) and Balthasar van der Ast (1593/4-1657). In 1626, de Heem settled in Leiden, where he worked in the idiom of Van der Ast, the Middelburg-born still-life painter hailed for his unadorned yet exquisite still-lifes, and also painted monochromatic still-lifes in the vein of Pieter Claesz (c. 1597-1660) in Haarlem. After several years, de Heem moved to the Habsburg-controlled Southern Netherlands where he enrolled in the Antwerp guild of St. Luke in 1635/36. There he encountered still-lifes by followers of Jan Breughel I and Daniel Seghers (1590-1661). Responding to the more flamboyant Flemish taste, which these reflected, de Heem adopted - and developed - the highly sought-after pronck still-life, a large-scale, sumptuous type characterised by rich colour and lavish abundance of precious objects. In the 1660s, however, he returned to simpler, more refined compositions such as Vase of flowers (Washington, National Gallery of Art; see A. Wheelock, Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century, Washington, 1992, pp. 103-6). The present work, with a relatively simplified composition and pronounced tonal contrasts similar to the Washington picture, is most likely from this period as well.

As can be seen in this highly finished work, which Fred Meijer of the RKD dates to the 1660s, de Heem had attained mastery of composition, light and colour. The pictorial structure, though seemingly a natural arrangement of flowers, is in fact the product of his highly developed artistry. The blooms are carefully arranged so that each type of flower is easily identifiable, including a tulip, roses and hydrangea, among others. Yet de Heem also placed blossoms at angles and surrounded them with greenery, adding greater naturalism and visual richness than his predecessors like Bosschaert. The contours created by the flower stems and stalks of wheat extending beyond the bouquet continually draw the eye to, and through, the flower arrangement, focusing the viewer's attention on each meticulously rendered blossom before leading it on to the next. Within this harmonious whole, small details display the artist's ability to capture minutiae that further delight the eye, including the shimmering reflection of a window in the glass vase, the glistening mantles of the oysters and small cracks in the stone shelf. In this signed work, de Heem also utilised his characteristic, virtuoso trompe-l'oeil effects, visible in the stalk of wheat, lit taper and shell hanging tantalisingly over the ledge in the foreground.

The profound level of naturalism in this picture invites prolonged examination and contemplation, prompting questions over its possible meanings and associations for contemporary viewers. The composition shares similarities with some of de Heem's more overtly symbolic still-lifes such as Crucifix and vase of flowers (Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen) and Memento Mori (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen). Some similar meanings may have been intended in the present work, as wheat is often associated with the bread of the Last Supper, while the pipe and taper are common features in vanitas still-lifes of the period, in which burning embers and quickly dissipating smoke evoke the transience of life. Yet such interpretations must not be taken too far. As Paul Taylor notes, flowers were inordinately expensive at this time and for many 17th-century viewers this work would have been understood and appreciated first and foremost as an image of opulent objects of luxury (P. Taylor, Dutch Flower painting 1600-1720, New Haven and London, 1995, pp. 1-27). The artist's nearly miraculous skill in recreating the actual colours and textures of the various flowers would also have greatly impressed the contemporary viewer during a period when the study of nature was intensifying in anticipation of modern scientific observation (see A. Wheelock, From Botany to Bouquets: Flowers in Northern Art, Washington, 1999). Perhaps most importantly, this still-life asserts the ability of painting to outlast the flowers themselves, invoking the aphorism attributed to Hippocrates 'Ars longa, vita brevis' or 'Art is long, life is short,' a concept that deeply informed the appreciation of still-life painting in the seventeenth- century Netherlands (A. Chong and W. Kloek, Still-life painting from the Netherlands, 1550-1720, Zwolle, 1999, p. 14).

De Heem resided in Utrecht from 1667 until 1672, the year France invaded the Netherlands, when he returned again to Antwerp until his death in 1684. Over the course of his long career, he melded his appreciation for the finely studied flower paintings of Utrecht, the light and detail prevalent in Leiden works, and the baroque swagger of art from the Southern Netherlands to create an exquisite, visually arresting form of still-life that dominated the local market and would be perpetuated in the work of followers such as Jacob Marrell (1614-1681) and Abraham Mignon (1640-1679). De Heem was held in high esteem during his lifetime, to which his many followers and the high prices of his work testify (see S. Segal, Jan Davidsz. de Heem en zijn kring, The Hague, 1991, pp. 43-5). De Heem's influence would extend into the eighteenth century, most notably in the extravagant assemblages of Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) and Jan van Huysum (1682-1749). Through these later artists, de Heem's elegant, virtuosic mode of still-life, so perfectly realised in this picture, persisted for generations.

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