Growth, decay and everything in between: Jan van Huysum, Paulus Theodorus van Brussel and Jan Weenix

Growth, decay and everything in between: Jan van Huysum, Paulus Theodorus van Brussel and Jan Weenix

12 December 2023

Lavish arrangements, imaginary bouquets, fruit, flowers, beauty and decay; our online tour of the beautiful ‘Dutch Flowers’ exhibition concludes with artists Jan van Huysum, Paulus Theodorus van Brussel and Jan Weenix.

Jan van Huysum (1682–1749)

Van Huysum was a native of Amsterdam and it’s believed he was trained by his father, who was also a still life painter. His first work is dated 1706. He often travelled to horticultural centres like Haarlem where he could sketch rare and unusual flowers.

Van Huysum is often described as one of the most distinguished flower painters of his day. During his lifetime, his flower paintings were sold for as much as 2,000 guilders, and he had many famous patrons.

Hollyhocks and Other Flowers in a Vase, 1702–20 (left) is set against a dark background in the tradition of the earlier 17th-century flower still lifes. The textures of the bouquet are meticulously executed, from the veins, ridges and burned edges of the leaves to the crêpe-like petals of the white poppies and hollyhocks.

With its bright, light palette, Flowers in a Terracotta Vase, 1736–7 (right) shows the shift that took place in van Huysum’s style during his career. The unusual shape of the canvas suggests it was made to decorate a particular space. It’s dated twice, which might indicate that he waited for the flowers he needed until they were in season, rather than working from sketches.

Paintings by Jan van Huysum in the 'Dutch Flowers' exhibition

Paulus Theodorus van Brussel (1754–1795)

Van Brussel was born in a village near the Dutch city of Utrecht. His early work saw him creating decorative paintings for the walls of elegant homes.

He moved to Amsterdam in 1774, and lived there for the remainder of his life. Known for his fruit and flower still lifes, his colourful and highly finished paintings feature in prominent collections throughout Europe.

Flowers in a Vase, 1789 (below left) is a lavish imaginary bouquet packed with roses, peonies, tulips, narcissi, forget-me-nots and pansies. The red marble ledge, classical urn, bird’s nest and faint background trees appear frequently in van Brussel’s paintings.

In Fruit and Flowers, 1789 (below middle) the flowers have been largely replaced by a rich display of grapes, peaches, plums, melons and a pineapple. Van Brussel captures the spectrum of growth and decay, from ripening blackberries on the left and flowers in full bloom, to a split grape and cherry in the foreground and decaying leaves at the top.

Three paintings on a wall in the 'Dutch Flowers' exhibition by Paulus Theodorus van Brussel and Jan Weenix

Jan Weenix (c.1642-1719)

Weenix was another Amsterdam native and came from a family of painters. Like van Huysum he was taught by his father, Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-c.1659), a versatile artist whose favourite subjects were Italian landscapes and still life scenes of game and dogs.

Weenix is primarily known for his paintings of hunting scenes, but he was a productive painter; making over 450 works during his career that depicted a range of subjects.

Flower piece and fruit, 1694 (above right) is from The Box’s permanent art collection and has been added to the Dutch Flowers exhibition especially for its showing in Plymouth.

In the work a cabbage white butterfly hovers around brassica leaves – damaged perhaps by both the butterfly and the blue bindweed. Clockwise from the butterfly you can see a bruised apple, a melon with a hungry fly, peaches, hazelnuts, plum, damson, greengage, figs, grapes and apricots. In the background there’s a fantasy landscape – a garden with swans and imaginative architecture with several figurative sculptures on stone columns.

Dutch Flowers continues in St Luke's church until Sunday 7 January 2024. Please see our opening hours page for details of our festive opening times.

Find out more about works in the show by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Balthasar van der Ast and Jan Davidsz. de Heem and Jacob van Walscapelle, Dirck de Bray and Rachel Ruysch.