CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

An Impossible Bouquet, Four Masterpieces by Jan van Huysum

Exhibition: 1 July - 28 September 2014

Information from the museum, 1 July 2014

A special collection of works by the 18th-century Dutch artist Jan van Huysum (1682-1749) is on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery from 1 July until 28 September 2014. An Impossible Bouquet, Four Masterpieces by Jan van Huysum brings together beautiful works from private collections alongside Dulwich’s own painting that together showcase the artist’s ingenuity and astonishing ability to paint flowers, fruit and insects with minute attention to detail.

These paintings beautifully illustrate Van Huysum’s pivotal role in the development of the flower and fruit still life. His luxuriant, curved bouquets reinvigorated the still-life genre and showed the influence of the French Rococo style, moving it away from the symmetrical arrangements of earlier painters such as Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621). By adjusting the still life to appeal to contemporary tastes, Van Huysum held a strategic position within the art market and continued to paint in the fine, precise manner made popular a century before by Gerrit Dou (1613-1675), the leader of the Leiden school of fijnschilders (fine-painters), a style that was still much sought after by collectors.

Included within the display are two paintings that have remained together since they left Van Huysum’s studio around 1732: Flowers in a Vase with Crown Imperial and Fruit and Flowers in front of a Garden Vase. Their complementary compositions suggest he conceived them as pendants – a rarity amongst his oeuvre of 241 paintings. His impressive arrangements could depict over 35 different types of flowers, which, before modern cultivation techniques, would never have been seen together at the same time of year. To overcome this Van Huysum worked from sketches and painted some of his arrangements over two years, explaining why he signed his paintings with two dates.

His ambitious compositions demonstrate his ability to combine a huge variety of species into beautiful, coherent still lifes that made him popular both during and beyond his lifetime: Van Huysum was known all throughout Europe, a significant achievement for an artist who rarely ventured from his native city of Amsterdam. The paintings included within this display were once owned by prominent 18th-century collectors, including the Gallery’s founders, Sir Francis Bourgeois and Noël Desenfans, as well as the Swiss painter and dealer Jean-Étienne Liotard.

An Impossible Bouquet, Four Masterpieces by Jan van Huysum has been curated by Dulwich’s Curatorial Fellow Henrietta Ward. The Gallery’s forthcoming Dutch and Flemish schools catalogue, to be published by 2016, will feature Vase with Flowers (DPG120) along with detailed entries for masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and Teniers. The catalogue is part of the Gallery’s strategy for the Curatorial Centre of Excellence, a major long-term commitment towards scholarship, learning and training of future curators. Dulwich Picture Gallery does not receive any regular government funding and relies on donations from generous individuals, corporations and trusts to continue their work. If you would like to make a gift towards the Curatorial Centre and its future projects then please contact or call + 44 (0)20 8299 8728.