Mezzotint still life of flowers in a Baroque vase decorated with putti, set on a ledge in an idyllic park setting. Butterflies flit around the gorgeous display of blossoms, and a tiny bird’s nest with three eggs rests on the ledge beside the vase. This is a rich, velvety impression of an important botanical print, with fine detail and excellent contrast and tonal range. This print and a companion work titled A Fruit Piece (1781) [not offered or shown here] were produced after paintings by Jan van Huysum originally in the collection of Sir Robert Walpole and now at the Hermitage Museum.
Jan van Huysum was an innovative and influential Dutch still life painter, greatly admired during his lifetime, when he was hailed as “the phoenix of flower painters.” Numerous aristocratic and royal patrons collected his works. Connoisseurs have continued to praise his work in exceptionally enthusiastic terms up until the present day. For example Bryan’s Dictionary asserts: “His taste in the arrangement of his groups is superior to that of any other flower-painter; and his pictures are so perfectly finished, that they seem to rival the velvet softness of nature.” Scholar Wilfred Blunt calls his style “a superlative tour de force of baroque design, broad in conception yet highly finished in detail” down to the dewdrops on the blossoms and trompe l’oeil insects. For van Huysum and his contemporaries, these still lifes were not just objects of aesthetic enjoyment, but reminders of the transience of life and the wonder of God’s creation. Van Huysum’s achievement of verisimilitude resulted from his insistence on composing his works based on close observation of actual specimens, an unusual technique for still life painters at that time that qualifies the works as scientific studies as well. Van Huysum was a noted mentor of other Dutch painters, including van Os and van Spaëndonck. His works are in major museum collections including the National Gallery (UK), National Gallery of Art (US), the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Getty, the Hermitage and the Louvre,
Richard Earlom was a leading British mezzotint engraver of his time, though he also produced some etchings and plates in the chalk style. His first engravings were for John Boydell, and include Liber Veritatis, 200 plates after landscape drawings by Claude Lorrain. He also engraved prints and portraits after old masters such as Rembrandt, Poussin, Guercino and Rubens. Other major works include flowers after van Huysum, van Os, and Robert John Thornton, for the latter’s famous Temple of Flora (London: 1799-1807).
John Boydell (1719-1804) was a printseller and engraver. In 1773, his nephew Josiah Boydell (1752-1817) became his business partner (trading as J. & J. Boydell) and later his successor. The Boydells are credited with fostering fine engraving in England with various publications, including scenes from Shakespeare by the best British engravers of the day, etchings by the renowned artist Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815) after paintings by Guercino, and a pair of mezzotint still life prints after Jan Van Huysum (1682-1749). Their prolific output includes many other works after old masters, genre scenes, landscapes and views, and maps.
Inscriptions below image: J Van Huysum pinx’t. J. Boydell, Excudit. Publish’d June 25, 1778. Rich’d Earlom, Sculp’st 1778. With engraving of the Walpole coat of arms bearing the motto “Fari Que Sentiat.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, handling, wear. Few short tears in margins professionally restored. Formerly cut close to platemark, but platemark nominally present and later professionally extended with 18th century laid paper for framing.
Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1994. pp. 128-129.
“Jan van Huysum.” The Getty. http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=292&page=1 (21 December 2007).
“John Boydell and Prints in Imitation of Drawings from the Royal Collection.” The Hunterian Art Gallery: Connoisseurs, Collectors and Copyists. http://www.hunterian.gla.ac.uk/Archives/CCCexhib/introboyd.htm (27 July 2005).
Maxted, Ian. "The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members." Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. 24 January 2005. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonb.html (12 January 2005).
"Richard Earlom," The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/02/0244/T024430.asp (5 March 2002).
Rusche, Harry. “Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery.” Department of English, Emory University. 1998. http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/Boydell.html (12 January 2005).
Williamson, George C., ed. Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. London: G. Bell and Sons: 1930. Vol. 2, pp. 115-116 (Earlom), Vol. 3, p. 92 (van Huysum).
[Works by Jan van Huysum]. HermitageMuseum. 2003. http://www.hermitagemuseum.org. (21 December 2007).