The return of Jan van Huysum's Vase of Flowers
Updated: Feb 2
The Vase of Flowers by Jan van Huysum is one of the best still lifes that the Amsterdam-born artist produced between the end of the XVII century and the first half of the XVIII century. It is certainly one of the most sumptuous and breathtaking still lives I have ever laid eyes on. It's a triumph of bright colours, sinuous patterns of lines, sensuous textures and airy volumes. It's a symphony, it's a dance, it's a delicate and intoxicating scent. It's a superb example of the almost photographic detail that the Flemish painting transformed into technical virtuosity. Van Huysum's analytical gaze on the beauty of nature and meditation on the themes of existence speak to the aesthetic taste of the Dutch bourgeoisie that was driving the radical change in patronage.
This painting was stolen by Wehrmacht soldiers in July 1944 and all trace of it was lost until November 1989, when a German family repeatedly tried to sell it to the Italian State (the nerve). In 2016, a new intermediary approached the Uffizi, once again making a request for payment. That's when the local Public Prosecutor's Office opened a file for attempted extortion, and the Ministry for Cultural Heritage together with Ministry for Foreign Affairs launched a joint cultural diplomacy operation, which eventually led to its return to the Uffizi in 2019.
I was so intrigued by the troubled story of this beautiful picture, so moved by the passion, time and dedication put in by everyone involved in ensuring its safe return, and so overwhelmed by the emotion caused by its restitution that I started thinking about all the looted art around the world, art that means so much to so many people and that will never find its way home. And I may have shed a wee tear.
Jan van Huysum
Vase of Flowers, ca. 1720-30
Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence