|European Watercolors — Herman Henstenburgh, attributed to - An Urn Garlanded with Flowers|
|Herman Henstenburgh, attributed to - An Urn Garlanded with Flowers
Medium: Watercolor and gouache on vellum
Dimensions: 16 5/8 x 11 5/8 inches
In Wilfrid Blunt's The Art of Botanical Illustration, the great expert recounts the supposed history of flower painting. Blunt states: "There is a story that at a time when rare flowers were costly and painters' charges moderate, an impecunious Dutch woman commissioned Jan Brueghel to paint for her the flowers she could not afford to buy. " Consequently, the genre gained popularity and became a central aspect of the golden age of Dutch painting.
One of the finest proponents of this field was the artist Herman Henstenburgh. His apprenticeship was served with Johannes Bronkhorst, a fellow native of Hoorn, who also instructed him in the secondary craft of baking, presumably to guarantee his pupil a good livelihood even if his artistic stock should fail to rise. Bronkhorst provided his apprentice with excellent training in the art of natural history painting and composition, and the master's concerns for Henstenburgh's career proved to be unnecessary.
According to the near-contemporary chronicler, Johan van Gool, Henstenburgh started out by depicted birds and landscapes, and then broadened his repertoire after about 1695 to include flower and fruit pieces such as this. The chronicler went on to state that Henstenburgh created a new type of watercolor medium which explained the extraordinary richness of his color palette. In reality, the painter simply achieved a level of mastery that was matched by very few of his contemporaries.
In this spectacular work, Henstenburgh's mastery of the medium and his skill in composition are beautifully exhibited, as are his abilities as a natural history painter. As is common with many Dutch and Flemish paintings, he groups specimens that belong to both the animal and botanical kingdoms, enhancing the garland of flowers with a shimmering-winged butterfly. The blooms and vegetation cascade down the side of the urn and each flower is displayed to the fullest. Henstenburgh's work also refers to the theme of vanitas and the phases of life are alluded to. While the butterfly symbolizes the transience of beauty, the snail that feeds upon the garland represents the passing of life.
This important and finely rendered still-life is a rare and significant piece by one of the finest of Dutch flower painters. It is worthy to note that the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York has recently acquired a similar piece by this superlative artist.