Still life painting returns to Dyrham

A Still Life of Flowers and Fruit by Cornelis de Heem Dyrham Park
Published : 02 Nov 2015

A 17th-century still life painting by the celebrated Dutch artist Cornelis de Heem has returned to its historical home at Dyrham Park. Visitors can now enjoy the vivid depiction of flowers and fruit originally bought by William Blathwayt for his house near Bath.

Collecting art on the continent

William Blathwayt, who built Dyrham Park, was Secretary at War to King William III. He frequently visited the Low Countries throughout the 1690s, accompanying the king on his military campaigns.

A connoisseur of art, Blathwayt used these overseas travels to furnish his mansion. 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.

Donations bring painting home

The painting remained at Dyrham Park for over two and a half centuries until 1956 when Blathwayt’s descendants sold it at auction. Now, nearly sixty years later, we’ve been able to buy it thanks to generous grants and donations.

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 all contributed to the purchase of the painting.

A Dutch masterpiece

With its striking colours and detailed displays of fruit and flowers, the painting is one of the best works by Cornelis de Heem. The artist studied under his father Jan Davidszoon de Heem and is associated with both Flemish Baroque and Dutch Golden Age painting.

The painting dates from the mid-1680s when de Heem was living in The Hague. It depicts flowers such as viburnum, roses, lilies, carnations and peonies. Foods such as peapods and physalis (cape gooseberry) are also featured, along with peaches showing the first blooms of mould and a large melon cut open to reveal the ripe flesh.

Earthy details such as 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.

An exciting acquisition

’It’s always exciting when an item from an original collection can come back to the place for which it was first acquired,’ said our curator Rupert Goulding. ‘We’re indebted to the organisations and individuals whose generous donations have enabled us to bring the de Heem home to Dyrham Park.

‘I’m sure our visitors will enjoy discovering the details in this beautiful still life. The flowers in de Heem's painting are echoed both by the Delft pottery flower pyramids in the collection and the baroque garden outside. We’ve displayed the painting in the Diogenes Room and have added silk flowers to the Delft pyramids and bowls of potpourri to complement the picture’s theme.’

Restoring Dyrham Park

Dyrham Park is currently wrapped in scaffolding and is undergoing a £3.8m programme of building work to replace the roof and carry out other repairs. A fully accessible rooftop walkway gives visitors a unique chance to watch the builders as they strip lead and Welsh slates from the roof before repairing and rebuilding it.

The house remains open through the roof replacement in 2015. Visitors are still able to see some of the original Dutch-inspired interiors and part of the priceless collection of furniture and objects collected by Blathwayt both in five newly presented rooms and on conservation tours where experts will show how the objects are being cared for and conserved during the work.

This article was first published on 9 June 2015

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