PART OF THE BRUEGHEL DYNASTY, grandson of Jan Brueghel the Elder and first taught by his uncle Jan Brueghel the Younger, Jan van Kessel joined the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1645 as a pupil of Simon de Vos, and at the age of 18 was registered as blomschilder there.
These beautifully-rendered, hitherto unpublished, panels display van Kessel’s colourful palette and crisp style which owe much to the flower paintings of Daniel Seghers, who tended to depict plants that grew in Belgium, especially cultivated garden flowers, as appear in the present pictures. Van Kessel’s preoccupation with caterpillars, butterflies and beetles is charmingly evident here as well. According to Jakob Weyerman, a pupil of van Kessel’s son Ferdinand, van Kessel studied such creatures both from illustrated scientific texts and directly from nature. It is also interesting to note the Chinese vase, which would seem to appear in both panels, rotated so that it is seen from different viewpoints. It is likely that such an item was imported from China by the Dutch East India Company, and it serves here as an exotic and luxurious foil to the more familiar flowers and insects.
These panels were painted at the height of Jan van Kessel’s career – seven of the set of ten flower vases on copper, dated 1652, are generally regarded as the artist’s best work in this field. Now dispersed, these include a pair now in the Heinz collection, a pair in the collection of the Marqués de Goubea, Spain, and a picture sold at Sotheby’s, London, 5 December 2007, lot 24. Although significantly smaller in scale than the works on copper, the present pictures possess the same level of refinement, attention to meticulous detail and harmonious compositional arrangements which characterise van Kessel’s most accomplished flower paintings, such as the panel painting sold in these Rooms, 2 December 2008, lot 5, also dated 1652.