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Kimbell Art Museum announced the Acquisition of a Major Painting by Jacques de Gheyn II
Jacques de Gheyn II, Vase of Flowers with a Curtain, 1615, oil on panel, 43 ¼ x 29 ¼ inches (109.8 x 74.5 cm). Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

FORT WORTH.-The Kimbell Art Museum announced the acquisition of a major painting by Jacques de Gheyn II (1565-1629), one of the founders of flower painting in the Netherlands. Vase of Flowers with a Curtain, dated 1615, is one of the artist’s largest known flower paintings, measuring 43 ¼ x 29 ¼ inches (109.8 x 74.5 cm). De Gheyn never sold it and seems to have kept it in his studio as a showpiece—to demonstrate his skills in this relatively novel artistic genre.

Scholars have long recognized Vase of Flowers with a Curtain as a landmark in the history of flower painting even though it was a “lost” work, kept in a British private collection since 1924, never exhibited in public, and known only in the form of old, black-and-white reproductions. Its reappearance and acquisition by a museum is a significant event in the study of Dutch art. The work adds an important new dimension to the Kimbell’s collection, which hitherto lacked an example of Dutch flower painting or still life.

Commented Malcolm Warner, acting director of the Kimbell: “At any given moment there are many fine 17th-century Dutch flower paintings on the art market, most of which represent this particular kind of art perfectly well. The level of skill among its practitioners was so great that frankly it would be difficult to find a bad example. But for the Kimbell’s collection we were looking for one that was not only technically brilliant and representative of the genre but also quite outstanding in some way—a ‘destination’ piece. Highly unusual and maybe even unique in scale for this early date, and remarkable too for its grandeur and theatricality (note the touch of illusionistic showmanship in the painting of the green curtains), the De Gheyn was our answer.”

With much of its vibrant detail obscured under a yellowed and uneven varnish, the painting is currently in need of conservation treatment. This will be carried out over the next three or four months by chief conservator Claire Barry and her staff in the Kimbell’s conservation studio. Most museums prefer to acquire paintings in such an “untouched” state rather than cleaned for the market, trusting in their ability to see through superficial imperfections—and of course in the expertise of their own conservators. Fortunately, the De Gheyn has never fallen victim to overcleaning in the past and retains its thin glazes and fine details, as well as a clear signature and date. Its appearance will improve dramatically when the offending varnish is removed. The Kimbell will put the work on display in its galleries in July.

Jacob de Gheyn II

Jacob de Gheyn was one of the most exceptional draftsmen and printmakers of his generation and admired for his invention and range of subjects. He is also considered one of the fathers of flower painting in the Netherlands. Before turning to flower painting, De Gheyn trained in Haarlem, serving the great painter and printmaker Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617). Goltzius was instrumental in teaching De Gheyn the art of drawing, and De Gheyn quickly proved himself a serious rival to his slightly older master—especially in the field of printmaking. This all changed in 1595, however, when De Gheyn married the wealthy Eva Stalpaert van der Wiele. She granted him financial security as well as important connections to the Dutch aristocracy. In consequence, he gradually gave up printmaking, focusing on the more dignified profession of painting. The couple was in Leiden between 1596 and 1601 and had moved definitively to The Hague by 1603.

As a painter, De Gheyn left a very small œuvre. Fewer than fifty paintings by him are known or documented, and of these, twenty-some survive today. Among the survivors is his Vanitas Still Life (1603) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It is widely considered the first vanitas still life in Netherlandish art. He also painted religious, historical, and mythological subjects. Some of his pictures were commissioned by members of the House of Orange Nassau, including Prince Maurits of Orange and Prince Frederik Hendrik.

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