Jan Davidsz. de Heem is regarded as the most distinguished and influential still-life painter of the seventeenth century. In the course of his career, more than any other still-life artist, he strove to explore new areas, experiment with new techniques and develop new approaches, always in a highly individual manner. Although much of his reputation rests on his lavish still-lifes of flowers, de Heem only started to paint these relatively late in his career. In this, he is thought to have been strongly influenced by the work of Daniel Seghers, the leading flower painter in Antwerp in the second quarter of the 17th century, whose mastery of light and detail was to have a profound effect on him.
Only after flowers had begun to play an increasingly prominent role in de Heem's wreaths and garlands around a central image, did he begin to paint bouquets in vases with any regularity. Fred Meijer believes this shift only took place in earnest in the early 1660s after the artist's move to Utrecht. There, he began by painting some compactly arranged bouquets that compare closely with his handling of flowers for a garland around a portrait of William III of Orange that may be dated to between 1662 and 1665 (Lyons, Musée des Beaux-Arts). Subsequently, he adopted a more detailed and less painterly approach that may have been influenced by his pupil Abraham Mignon, with whom he shared a studio during the Utrecht years.
Fred Meijer, to whom we are grateful, considered the present picture substantially autograph with some possible studio participation when it last appeared at auction in 1991. He has since revised his opinion and now regards it as fully autograph. Meijer dates the present work to circa 1672, placing it securely within a group of seven bouquets, all on canvas, painted in the years leading up to the only known late dated work, a garland from 1675 (see Sotheby's, London, 10 July 1974, lot 61). As he points out, these all show strong similarities in composition - 'a rather densely filled centre with several large and heavy flowers grouped around it, while a sense of movement is created by the inclusion of curving sprigs, tall leaves or stalks' - and in colour - 'strong warm colours and saturated greens combined with clear white and bright blue motifs'.
By this date de Heem's mastery of composition and colour was complete and the remarkable quality of this painting is indicative of the heights that de Heem's art achieved in his maturity. His mastery of technique and execution is yet more remarkable and in this case, the exquisite reflections in the vase, the insects, the jewel-like water droplets and the enormous variety of textures and colours are all rendered in extraordinary detail.
To be included in Fred Meijer's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.