VAN HUYSUM, After Jan (1682-1749)
[A Flower Piece]
London: John Boydell, 1781; 1778. Mezzotint by Richard Earlom, proof before title. Image size (including text): 20 x 18 5/8 inches. Sheet size: 24 1/2 x 19 1/4 inches.
A very rare proof mezzotint after the work of Jan van Huysum: the "last of the great Dutch masters'' (Mitchell), the "Phoenix of Flower Painters." (Weyerman)
Proof, before title, the first before the motto was added to the Earl of Orford's coat-of-arms. "It is the fate of some painters to be celebrated in their lifetime only and to be disregarded by later generations...Other painters pass their lives in obscurity only to be acclaimed by a succeeding century. A few, a very few, achieve a fame which is universal in their own day, never falters, and remains unchanged today. Jan van Huysum is among them. To Weyerman...Van Huysum was the 'phoenix of Flower Painters.' To Vertue, writing of six paintings he saw in an English collection in the 1740s, they were 'the most inimitable pictures that were ever seen.' In Van Huysum's lifetime the Kings of Poland and Prussia, the Elector of Saxony, Prince William of Hesse, the Dukes of Orleans and Mecklenburg, and Sir Robert Walpole were eager patrons. When Catherine the Great, thirty years after Van Huysum's death, wanted to buy the Walpole Collection, the greatest in England, a valuation was made by Benjamin West...on the evidence of saleroom results at the time he placed a fair valuation of 1200 pounds on the pair of Van Huysums...In the nineteenth century the Rothschilds and others were avid collectors...Today the very finest Van Huysums are not available...The only fair way to judge an artist is by assessing his success in what he set out to achieve. By such a yardstick Van Huysum is supremely successful... "Jan, born at Amsterdam in 1682, was the eldest son and pupil of Justus van Huysum. Justus was the head of a family enterprise...with three younger sons assisting: Justus the younger, Jacob and Michiel. Their large-scale production met the demand for decorative flowerpieces...Jan did not choose to follow his father's example. From his marriage in 1704 until his death in 1749 Jan appears to have stayed in Amsterdam, but independent of the family. He jealously guarded his success...working in strict privacy that none might see the preparation of his pigments nor how he worked...He is said to have worked from the real flower and gone to Haarlem each summer to study specimens...Van Huysum possessed an unerring elegance of composition which enabled him to avoid the inbalance, the over-abundance that others risked...The artist left no word, no indication of how he really painted, no hint of his own philosophy. So the wondrous skills of Jan Van Huysum, the last of the great Dutch masters, leaves us as bemused as those of his predecessors a century and a half earlier." (Peter Mitchell, European Flower Painters, pp. 142-149) Richard Earlom was one of the few engravers technically equipped to do justice to Van Huysum's work. Earlom "succeeded in inducing his father to place him under the tuition of Cipriani, and in 1765 became known to Alderman Boydell, who entertained so high an opinion of the young artist that he employed him to make drawings from the celebrated collection of pictures at Houghton, and now at St. Petersburg, for the engravers to work from. In 1757 he was awarded a premium by the Society of Arts. In the art of mezzotint engraving Earlom was his own instructor. His plates show great technical skill, especially those of flowers after Van Huysum, and are highly valued by the connoisseurs. They were produced in a style of engraving which till then had never been thought capable of representing the delicate texture of flowers... He engraved over sixty plates in mezzotint, among which are The Royal Academy, after Zoffany; Samuel Barrington, after Reynolds; Richard, viscount Fitzwilliam, after Howard; William Henry, duke of Gloucester, after Hamilton; Horatio, lord Nelson, after Beechey; William Pitt, after Dupont; the set of six plates of the Marriage à la Mode, after Hogarth; two flower pieces, after Huysum; Blacksmith's Shop, and the Forge, after Wright." (DNB)