The National Gallery Takes Van Huysum’s 'Flowers in a Terracotta Vase' to Six Locations in the UK

Saturday, May 15, 2021
The National Gallery Takes Van Huysum’s 'Flowers in a Terracotta Vase' to Six Locations in the UK

Following the positive response to Artemisia Visits (2019), the National Gallery has announced another travel exhibition titled 'Jan van Huysum Visits'.

Following the positive response to Artemisia Visits (2019), the National Gallery has announced another travel exhibition titled 'Jan van Huysum Visits'. This exhibition will see Van Huysum’s magnificent ‘Flowers in a Terracotta Vase’ (1736–7) travel to six locations across the UK in summer 2021.

The painting will visit Cornwall, Norfolk, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each display will explore one of six ‘Ways to Wellbeing’: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, Give, and Care (for the Planet).

'Flowers in a Terracotta Vase' will be on tour for approximately three months, from early June. In each region, the painting will pop up in an unusual or unexpected non-museum venue. Locations include a food bank and community library, a covered market, a former department store and community centres. The tour will promote ways in which art and culture can support wellbeing and reach audiences who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and the UK lockdown.

At the heart of 'Jan van Huysum Visits' is engagement with local communities. In each setting the Gallery is working closely with the venue as well as a local museum or gallery to ensure that as many people as possible can engage with the painting and make it come alive in new and different ways.

Jan van Huysum (1682–1749) was a native of Amsterdam and the last of the distinguished still-life painters active in the Northern Netherlands in the 17th and early 18th centuries, an internationally celebrated artist in his lifetime. His spectacular 'Flowers in a Terracotta Vase' – which shows over 30 species of flowers and plants in bloom, unfurling in exquisite detail – is no shy, hide-in-a-corner painting. It’s meant to dazzle and it does. Van Huysum is after, and achieves, excess: a celebration of nature, an entertaining puzzle and a display of wealth, culture and fashion.

The vase towers above the viewer who is placed firmly below, looking up at it in a niche suitable for a Classical sculpture. The vase overflows with all types of flowers, from florid roses, peonies, mauve and red poppies to the humbler primroses, apple blossom and bachelor’s buttons. In the Dutch Republic, horticulture was a subject of national pride. This is a rich man’s bouquet made to look winsome and natural, but in reality, it’s carefully orchestrated, displaying not only a passion for flowers but an immense knowledge and understanding of them. Butterflies, a yellow ant, a fly, and hothouse fruit are added to the exotic mix, bringing the garden into the house as was the fashion in interior decoration. But one or two of the luscious grapes are past their best, perhaps suggesting the brevity of life but more likely indicating that a painted picture lives on long after the insects and flowers have vanished. Crystal drops of cool water, feathery leaves, delicate petals breathing their scent, the quivering wings of the red admiral butterfly all evoke the senses of touch, of smell, even of taste.

'Flowers in a Terracotta Vase' celebrates the longevity of the painted image and enduring impact art can have on our hearts and minds. The Gallery invites audiences from across the nation to engage with this splendid picture during the longer, brighter days that summer will bring. The vibrancy and abundance of 'Flowers in a Terracotta Vase' will resonate with so many who have sought comfort and hope in the natural world during a trying year. Whether it be tending to their own gardens, enjoying the beauty and wildlife of national parks and woodlands, or simply pausing to notice the dewy petals of fresh blooms, visitors will find echoes of that in the vivid colours of 'Flowers in a Terracotta Vase'.

'Jan van Huysum Visits' is part of the National Gallery’s national touring exhibitions programme, which aims to share paintings across the UK, creating a range of ways for the widest possible audience to explore and be inspired by the collection.

National Gallery Director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, says, ‘This astounding, large flower painting will make an unexpected appearance in unexpected venues across the country. I hope it will make people think about art and the beauty of nature, encourage their own creativity and inspire them to visit their own local museum or art collection.’

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