Jan Davidsz. de Heem

Utrecht 1606 – 1684 Antwerp

A Bouquet of Flowers in a green glass Vase, standing before a Niche

Traces of signature, lower right.
Oil on panel, 14⅝x 11 ins. (37.2 x 28 cm)

Sold to a private collector

(Possibly) Hendrik Verschuuring, Finance Minister of the United Provinces
His sale, Rietmulder, The Hague, 17 September 1770 lot 74, 'Een Fles met Bloemen en eenige Vrugten, extra fraay en kragtig geschildert op. P. H. 14½ d. Br. 11 d.' (no. 74.  A bottle of flowers and some fruit, particularly beautiful and forcefully painted on panel, high 14 ½ in, wide 11 in.)
(Possibly) anonymous sale; Leiden, 22 April 1777, lot 13, 'Een Fles met veererlij zoorten van Bloemen en Insecte konstig en uitvoerig op paneel, door J.D. Heem, hoog 13: en een half, breet 9 duim' (No. 13.  A bottle of many types of flowers and insects artful and elaborate on panel, by J. D. Heem, high 13 1/2 , wide 9 in) [sold to Kleijnenberg for 20 guilders].
(Possibly) Mme de Peters; her sale, Le Brun/Remy, Paris, 5 November 1787, lot 60, 'Un vase de crystal, rempli de fleurs de différantes espèces, rendu avec beaucoup de Vérité. Ce tableau, d'une grande fraicheur, est peint sur bois, & porte 1 pied 2 pouces de haut, sur 10 pouces de large' [sold to Fontaine for 33 francs].
Thadée-Joseph-Antoine-Hyacinthe van Saceghem (d. 1852), Ghent;[i]
His sale, Le Roy, Brussels, 2 June 1851, lot 19 [sold to Patureau for 1000 francs].
Théodore Patureau; his sale, Le Brun/Pillet, Paris, 20 April 1857, lot 7.
R. Papin; 44; his sale, Durand-Ruel/Pillet, Paris, 28 March 1873 [sold 3,900 francs].
Private collection, Geneva, by 2004.
Anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, 8 December, 2004, lot 25, (colour illustration and cover).
Private collection, U.S.A., 2004-2022

[i] The catalogues of the 1851, 1857 and 1873 sales provide detailed descriptions of the painting that allow positive identification.  Furthermore, the latter two both mention the previous collection as provenance.  The inscription in red painting on the reverse of the panel, ‘T.P. no. 8’ is most probably the Th. Patureau’s inventory number. 


Dr. Fred G. Meijer, Jan Davidsz de Heem 1606-1684, PhD Dissertation University of Amsterdam, June 2016, Part II, Catalogue Raisonné, p. 240, no. A214, illustrated in colour.


We are grateful to Dr. Fred G. Meijer for his help in cataloguing this painting, which will be included in his forthcoming monograph on Jan Davidsz de Heem. 


A glass bottle, in which the studio window is beautifully reflected, stands on a stone ledge.  It contains a loosely structured arrangement of flowers that fans out gracefully from the neck of the bottle.  A large, showy red and white tulip and a stem of lacy cow parsley appear at the top of the bouquet, while below are single and double roses, and the blooms of an aquilegia, a morning glory, a marigold, a red anemone, some daisies, wild pansies and fumatory.  Two stalks of golden wheat and a branch of blackberries complete the bouquet.  Wild pansies and a string of redcurrants rest on the chipped stone ledge, across which glides a snail.  Looking more closely, the viewer discovers a host of little insects scattered about the bouquet:tucked in among the flowers and leaves are several tiny ants, beetles, a crane fly, a ladybird, some caterpillars, an Orange tip butterfly, poised to take flight, and a spider, suspended from a silken thread. 

Jan Davidsz de Heem was one of the most versatile, accomplished and influential still-life painters of the seventeenth century.  During the course of his career, he moved about extensively and thus became exposed to a wide variety of influences.  His genius lay in his ability to absorb and assimilate what he saw in new and original ways.  He explored a wide range of subjects, and continually experimented with new styles and techniques.  De Heem was highly esteemed in his day and his paintings commanded high prices.  His success won him many pupils and imitators, both in Flanders and Northern Netherlands. 

Born in Utrecht, de Heem was trained in the Dutch still-life tradition, probably by the flower painter Balthasar van der Ast (1593/4-1657).  His early career was spent in Leiden, where he began painting in the manner of the local still-life painters, creating small, monochrome  vanitas still lifes with books, musical instruments, writing and smoking accessories and skulls.  Later, for a while, he was influenced by the ‘tonal’ still lifes of the Haarlem painters Pieter Claesz (1597/98-1661) and Willem Claesz Heda (1593/94-1680).  Around 1635, de Heem moved with his family to Antwerp in the Southern Netherlands, an unusual career move at a time when many artists were migrating North.  There, he came into contact with the colourful flower paintings of Daniel Seghers (1590-1661), and the large-scale, flamboyant still lifes of Frans Snyders (1579-1657) and his followers, which had a profound effect on his style.  During the next decade, de Heem assimilated the bright colours and spacious formats of the Flemish painters, developing a new artistic idiom and creating sumptuous banquet scenes (banketjes), and lavish still lifes filled with richly coloured draperies and profuse displays of fruit, flowers, foodstuffs and luxury objects (pronkstilleven).  From the late 1650s onwards, de Heem spent extended periods back in his native Utrecht, only returning intermittently to Antwerp.  However, the French invasion of the Dutch Republic in 1672 and their occupation of Utrecht forced him finally to return to Antwerp, where he died in 1684.  As a consequence of his peripatetic life de Heem became immersed both in the Dutch and Flemish traditions, and in his mature work, he achieved a stylistic fusion of the two, combining the colouristic splendour of Flemish Baroque painting with the sober realism of the Dutch. 

De Heem’s colourful and accomplished flower paintings did much to establish his fame, yet they represent a surprisingly small proportion of his extensive oeuvre.  Indeed, fewer than twenty floral still lifes by his hand are known and these belong largely to the second half of his career.  Before the mid-1650s, de Heem painted flowers only occasionally, with the steady production of flower pieces beginning around the time, or shortly after, his return to Utrecht in the late 1650s.  In the first half of the seventeenth century, Utrecht had been an important centre of flower painting.  The celebrated flower painter Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder had moved there in 1615, followed a few years later by Roelandt Saverij (1578-1639), another early pioneer of flower painting.  Bosschaert left for Breda in 1619, but his innovations had laid the foundations for a younger generation of flower painters in Utrecht, including his sons Ambrosius the Younger (1609-1645) and Abraham (1612/13 – 1643) and his pupil Balthasar van der Ast.  Utrecht’s pre-eminence as a centre of flower painting, however, came to an end with van der Ast’s departure for Delft in 1632, although the tradition lived on in the work of Jacob Marrell (1613-1681), a painter from Frankfurt, who arrived there by 1634.  Perhaps stimulated by his return to his artistic roots in Utrecht, de Heem now turned his attention to painting flowers in earnest.  In the following years, he breathed new life and vigour into the genre.  Initially his flower pieces were modest in size, but gradually they grew larger and grander in conception.  Over time, he introduced a greater elegance and a richness of colour into his still lifes, while at once infusing them with a new sense of freedom and naturalness. 

The dating of de Heem’s flower paintings is somewhat problematic since around the time he turned to flower painting he stopped regularly adding dates to his signature as he had done previously.  Despite these difficulties, scholars have been able to construct a plausible chronology for his work from the last two or three decades of his career, thanks to the benchmarks provided by the few dated paintings, and the fact that his style  and handling constantly evolved.  Although the present painting is characteristically undated, de Heem expert Dr. Fred. G. Meijer believes that it was made during de Heem’s stay in Utrecht in the late 1660s. 

Though smaller in format and more restrained than some of de Heem’s flower pieces, the artist’s exquisite sense of colour and effortless technique are on full display here.  Set against a dark background, the foremost blooms emerge in a blaze of colour, while others cast in shadow recede, giving the bouquet a sense of depth and volume.  The character of each plant is perfectly realised, from the roses, with their delicate, papery petals, and insect-ravaged leaves, to the glossy tulip and the spiky ears of corn.  De Heem has also deployed some favourite visual devices that delight the eye, such as the reflection of a window in the translucent body of the  vase – both on its convex exterior and its concave interior - and the luminous drops of water that glisten on the stone ledge and trickle over its illusionistically painted front edge.  Also characteristic of de Heem is the way in which he used the plants’ curving stems to establish a dynamic, flowing rhythm.  Yet, such an arrangement could not in reality have been painted directly from nature since the artist included flowers and fruit that bloom and ripen at different times of year.  Like most seventeenth-century flower paintings, it was almost certainly composed in the studio from studies taken after nature. 

It is no wonder de Heem’s floral still lifes aroused such admiration and that his influence was far reaching in his own time and beyond.  Writing in the eighteenth century, Arnold Houbraken maintained that “his brushwork was the best and the most skilful” and Jacob Campo Weyerman described him as a ‘Miracle of the Art of Painting’, and ‘one of the most delectable Flower and Fruit painters … who ever followed bounteous Nature”[i]


Jan Davidsz de Heem was born in Utrecht at Easter in 1606 to a Roman Catholic family of Flemish descent.  His father, David Jansz van Antwerpen, was a musician from Antwerp, who died when Jan was six years old.  Jan probably received his artistic training in Utrecht, but the name of his teacher is not recorded.  However, it is most likely that he was a pupil of the still-life painter Balthasar van der Ast as his earliest paintings were clearly inspired by van der Ast’s compositions. The fact that he also borrowed motifs from van der Ast’s works  during his early years indicates that he must at least have been very familiar with the work of van der Ast from around 1624. In 1625, Jan moved with his family to Leiden, where he adopted the surname de Heem.  In December 1626, Jan Davidsz de Heem married Aletta van Weede, a young woman from Utrecht.  The couple had several children, including a son, Cornelis de Heem (1631-1695), who followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a still-life painter.  The artist is mentioned for the last time in Leiden in September 1631: subsequently, he may have spent a few years in Amsterdam, but there is no documentary record of his presence there.  By 1635, de Heem had settled in Antwerp, where he became a member of the guild in 1635/36, and a citizen in 1637.  In the following years, his career began to flourish, especially from around 1640.  During the 1640s, he produced a substantial body of work and registered several pupils with the Antwerp guild.  In March 1643, his first wife died, and a year later the painter remarried: his second wife, Anna Catharina Ruckers, was a Catholic and a daughter of Andreas Ruckers, Antwerp’s leading harpsichord maker.  The couple had four daughters and two sons.

From 1658 to 1663, de Heem lived in Antwerp only intermittently, registering as a non-resident citizen (buitenpoorter).  During this period, he was probably living mostly in his native Utrecht, although he did not become a member of the Utrecht guild until 1669.  The invasion of the French army in 1672 forced the artist to return to Antwerp, where he remained until his death.  He was buried in the church of the Dominicans (St. Paul’s Church) in Antwerp on 10th February 1684. 

Jan Davidsz de Heem trained his own son Cornelis (1631-1695).  Abraham Mignon (1640-1679) and Maria van Oosterwyck (1630-1693) were among de Heem’s most gifted pupils. 

[i] J. Campo Weyerman, De levens-beschryvingen der Nederlandsche konst-schilders en schilderessen… (2 vols), The Hague/Dordrecht 1729-1769, Vol. I, pp. 407-412.