HUYSUM, Jan van
(b. 1682, Amsterdam, d. 1749, Amsterdam)

Hollyhocks and Other Flowers in a Vase

c. 1710
Oil on canvas, 62 x 52 cm
National Gallery, London

Dutch painters described the visible world with remarkable precision and one of the forms this description took was the still life. In the earliest years of the seventieth century still lifes often had a vanitas element. Among the apparently random accumulation of objects were clocks, snuffed-out candles, faded flowers and skulls, reminders of the passage of time and the inevitability of death and decay. As the century progressed these elements dropped away and still-lifes became simply displays of the rare, exotic, expensive and beautiful.

Jan van Huysum, whose career spanned the first half of the eighteenth century, was the heir to this great tradition of still-life painting and, as far as floral still lifes are concerned, its greatest exponent. This painting is undated but must belong to the first half of his career before about 1720, when he began to paint more elaborate and artificial flower pieces, which are light in tone on light backgrounds, in an almost pastel palette. It probably dates from about 1710.

Jan van Huysum lived and worked in Amsterdam. He was one of a dynasty of painters, having been trained by his father Justus van Huysum, also a still-life painter, and was later imitated by his younger brother, Jacob.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):
Franz Schubert: Blumenlied (Flower Song) D 431