A vividly detailed 17th century still life painting, originally bought by a patron of the arts and a minister to King William III, has returned to its historical home.
Now visitors to the National Trust’s Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire will be able to enjoy a splendid example of a still life depicting flowers and fruit by Dutch artist Cornelis de Heem (1631-1695).
The painting has been secured thanks to generous grants and donations. It has been bought by the National Trust with funds from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Mr and Mrs Kenneth Levy bequest, the Art Fund, a fund set up by the late Hon. Simon Sainsbury, the Royal Oak Foundation’s Ervin-DesChamps Fund, and a private donation.
William Blathwayt, the builder of Dyrham Park, was Secretary at War to King William III and frequently visited the Low Countries throughout the 1690s, accompanying the king on his military campaigns.
A connoisseur of art, as well as having interests in gardening, music, and architecture, Blathwayt used these overseas connections and travels to furnish his house. He probably acquired the de Heem painting, A Still Life of Flowers and Fruit arranged on a Stone Plinth in a Garden, on one of these tours.
The painting remained at Dyrham Park until 1956 when the family sold it at auction. Now, nearly sixty years later, it has come home to Dyrham.
The painting, in oil on canvas, with its striking colours and displays of fruit and flowers, is one of the best works of Cornelis de Heem, who studied under his father Jan Davidszoon de Heem.
The painting dates from the mid-1680s when the artist was living in The Hague and depicts a wide variety of flowers, such as viburnum, roses, lilies, carnations and peonies, foods such as peapods and physalis, and fruit such as peaches showing the first blooms of mould, and a large melon cut open to reveal the ripe flesh.
Blackberries, thistles, brambles, toadstools and mosses also feature in the painting alongside various creatures including snails, a slug and lizard, while butterflies carry the scene towards the light source at the upper left-hand corner. Apart from being a display of virtuoso painterly skill, the picture also hints at the transience of material culture. Some of the fruits are beginning to rot and the wild plants are encroaching on the garden, ready to undo man’s efforts.
Rupert Goulding, National Trust curator, said: “It is always exciting when an item from an original collection can come back to the place for which it was first acquired and we are indebted to those organisations and individuals whose generous donations have enabled us to bring the de Heem home to Dyrham.
“I am sure that our visitors will really enjoy discovering the details in this beautiful still life which is rich in its depiction of flowers, fruits, butterflies and other elements of nature. It has enabled us to reunite one of the finest flower paintings from Blathwayt’s collection with its historical home.
“The flowers in de Heem’s painting are echoed both by the Delft pottery flower pyramids which we already have in the collection, and the baroque garden outside. We have displayed the painting in the Diogenes Room and have added silk flowers to the Delft pyramids, and bowls of potpourri to provide floral scent to complement the picture’s theme. ”
The Royal Oak Foundation is pleased to have been able to support this landmark acquisition.
Marilyn Fogarty, Interim Executive Director, the Royal Oak Foundation, said: “As the American partner of the National Trust, Royal Oak is pleased to contribute to Blathwayt’s vision for his beloved Dyrham Park, built through his colonial American connections. The Ervin-DesChamps Fund, created by stalwart donors for urgent National Trust needs, made this grant possible. We are honoured to be a part of the effort to reinstate de Heem’s still life to its historical home.”
The painting was bought through dealer Johnny van Haeften for £574,000. Funds for the purchase included £163,303 from National Heritage Memorial Fund, £100,000 from Art Fund and $100,000 from the Royal Oak Foundation’s Ervin-DesChamps Fund.
For Dyrham Park opening times and further information www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dyrham-park or call 0117 937 2501