DescriptionPETER FAES (Flemish 1750 - 1814)
Floral Still Lifes (a pair), circa 1790s
Oil on cradled wooden panels
23-1/2 x 16-1/2 inches (each)
One with indistinct remnants of a black P. Faes signature on the edge of the terracotta colored marble ledge
One bearing a false JHuysum signature on the gray marble ledge at lower left
Bortolaso collection, Genoa, Italy, before 1954 (as Jan van Huysum);
Newhouse Galleries, New York, NY;
Mr. and Mrs. F. Howard Walsh, Fort Worth, Texas;
Walsh Family Art Trust
The late eighteenth-century Flemish flower and fruit painter Peter Faes was born in the small town of Meir near Hoogstraten, north of Antwerp. He trained at the Antwerp Academy, and in 1791 was listed as a deacon in that city's Guild of St Luke. Like Jan Frans van Dael, Jan Frans Eliarts, and a few other flower painters active in Flanders and Paris who were his most talented contemporaries, Faes worked in the tradition of the Amsterdam painter Jan van Huysum, who in the 1720s revolutionized the genre by changing the deep jewel tones of his palette and discarding the dark black seventeenth-century backgrounds behind his flowers. Instead, van Huysum adopted a much blonder palette for his bouquets, chose more opulent ledges and vases of polished marble and sculpted terracotta, and placed his arrangements against bright backgrounds which often featured a sunlit parkscape ornamented with statuary. Van Huysum's invention served to update the appearance of the floral still life in keeping with a shift in aesthetic from the dark drama of the Baroque to the more lighthearted Rococo originating in Paris. Van Huysum's post 1720 bouquets coordinated much more harmoniously with Boucher's pastel paintings of frolicking nudes and Watteau's elegantly dressed lovers strolling through idyllic gardens. Faes brought this aesthetic into the nineteenth century.
Until relatively recently, paintings by Peter Faes and other later eighteenth-century flower painters have received little art historical attention. Consequently, their oeuvres have yet to be fully understood and identified. In October 1988, still life specialist Fred G. Meijer of the Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague (RKD), saw photographs of the present companion pictures and recognized them as the work of Peter Faes rather than Jan van Huysum (to whom they were previously attributed). In contrast to painters such as Jan van Huysum, or Parisian-based Gerard van Spaendonck who worked in the slick manner of a miniaturist, Faes' brushwork is broader. Although in his early work (circa 1780) he placed landscape and architectural views behind his arrangements, Faes seems to have preferred solid backgrounds containing one brightly illuminated area behind the arrangement in work from the 1790s. Additionally, he tended to build up his forms with many overlapping strokes of different but related hues in a manner similar to the way a watercolorist works. His bouquets are generally arranged in tall footed vases, such as those in the present pair, which have a golden cast. His compositions vary quite a bit over the seventeen-year period for which we have dated work (1779 until 1796). However, in the later 1780s and into the 1790s, Faes preferred arrangements that spread upward in a rather straight line from a cluster of densely packed flowers near the lip of the vase. For these straight vertical stems, Faes usually chose double hyacinths, the most popular flowers of the eighteenth century, which the Dutch fanatically hybridized to produce a wide variety of colors and types. Around 1790, Faes tended to use the double cobalt blue and pink varieties which appear both in the present pair, and in a compositionally similar bouquet in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, dated 1790. Also during this period, Faes usually placed a large variegated tulip near the apex of his bouquets on an arching stem, a gesture that introduced an S-curve into the design. This line usually flowed down along one side of the vase and terminated in a cluster of heavy blossoms (usually lipstick red double peonies and cabbage roses) which rested on the tabletop. A stalk of native grass and a bird's nest with eggs are often seen in flowerpieces by Faes as well. To heighten the illusionism he worked so diligently to achieve, Faes preferred working on smooth wooden panels rather than canvas supports.
Peter Faes's best-known patron was the Hapsburg Archduchess Maria Christina, the favorite daughter of Empress Maria Theresia, and sister to the French queen Marie-Antoinette and the Austrian emperor Joseph II. She and her husband Albert von Sachsen-Teschen served as royal governors (stadhouders) of the Austrian Netherlands from 1781 to 1793. In Laeken, a suburb of Brussels, they built from 1782 onwards a stunning royal chateau they dubbed "Schoonenberg" (Dutch for "beautiful mountain"). Surrounding it was the first English landscape garden on the Continent, designed as a natural-looking landscape by the famous English landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown. The grounds featured a river with an artificial cascade (powered by a steam-engine), a "cave of Vulcanus," an artificial rock topped with the ruin of medieval castle, a temple, a pavilion, a rustic hamlet with a menagerie, a hermitage, an orangerie, a conservatory, and a Chinese pagoda. Inside the palace, the couple amassed an outstanding collection of old master drawings and prints, one of the finest in Europe, which today forms the nucleus of the Albertina in Vienna. They also displayed a suite of paintings by Peter Faes which they commissioned specifically for the palace between 1782 and 1784. After the French conquered the southern Netherlands in 1794, and Maria Christina returned to her native Vienna, she specifically requested that the Faes paintings be brought back with her, although they are no longer in the Vienna collections.
The work of Peter Faes is represented in many museums including the Musée Royale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Museum Taxandria, Turnhout.
We are grateful to Fred G. Meijer of the RKD, The Hague, for his kind assistance in determining the date and attribution for these companion paintings.
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