JAN VAN KESSEL I (Antwerp 1628 – Antwerp 1679)
and JAN VAN BALEN (Antwerp 1611 – Antwerp 1654)
A Cartouche Still Life of Flowers Around an Allegorical Image of Putti with Costly Objects and a Mask
signed and dated in the lower left J. v. kessel Fecit A° 1648 and signed in the center J.V. BALEN. F.
oil on canvas
30 ⅜ x 26 ⅜ inches (77.4 x 67.5 cm.)
Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna who sold it prior to 1938
Charles & Edith Neuman de Végvár, Vienna, acquired before 1938
Confiscated by the Austrian Nazi authorities, second half 1938
Negotiated return by the Nazis to Charles & Edith Neuman de Végvár, then residing in Switzerland, second half 1938
Deposited in a vault of the Credit Lyonnais bank, Paris, from where confiscated by the
Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, Jeu de Paume, Paris, May, 1944 until about July, 1944, labeled NEUM 5, (as by Jan van Balen and Daniel Seghers), then transferred to
Schloss Neuchwanstein, Füssen, Germany until October-November, 1945 where recovered by the
Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (“The Monuments Men”) of the Allied Forces and evacuated to
Munich Central Collecting Point, Munich, June 28, 1945, no. 1363/1, (as by J.V. Balen and F. Seghers?)
Repatriated to France, October 30, 1946 and delivered to Paris (French restitution authorities attribute the painting to De Heem)
Restituted to Charles Neuman de Végvár, New York, December 6, 1946
Private Collection, New York, until 2012
Claus Virch, Paintings in the Collection of Charles and Edith Neuman de Végvár, New York, 1970, p. 23 (as by Daniel Seghers and J.V. Balen)
Jan van Kessel was born in Antwerp, the son of the painter Hieronymus II van Kessel. Jan Brueghel I was his maternal grandfather. Jan was a pupil of Simon de Vos and also of his uncle, Jan Brueghel II. He became a member of the Antwerp guild of St. Luke in 1645. Despite his successful career, he died in relative poverty. He was a very versatile painter, who produced floral bouquets and fruit pieces among other types of still lifes, as well as genre, animal paintings, and landscapes. He also made cartoons for tapestries, especially for the floral borders. He is perhaps best known for his finely executed works on small copper plates, which show insects, shells and flowers. When first registered as a master in the Antwerp guild, Jan van Kessel was specifically called a flower painter.
Among his earliest known works, from 1647 to 1649, are a number of finely executed cartouche still lifes of flowers grouped around a central subject, of which the present painting is an excellent example: the date 1648 on it was revealed in recent cleaning. Van Kessel’s choice of flowers is, as usual in his work, restricted to common species available in Antwerp gardens at the time, except perhaps for the flowers of the pomegranate at lower centre. The artist shows us, among other flowers, various kinds of roses, tulips, anemones, irises, carnations, hyacinth, snowdrops, guelder rose and honeysuckle, interwoven with ivy. The bouquets are enlivened by various butterflies, bugs and insects.
Jan van Kessel was undoubtedly inspired by the work of Daniel Seghers (1590-1661) for such paintings; Seghers developed this type of still life in the late 1620s and 1630s and produced many high-quality examples. Both Seghers and Van Kessel often collaborated with specialised figure painters for the central images in such works, among them Erasmus Quellinus and Cornelis Schut. The central image in this painting is signed by Jan van Balen, member of an Antwerp family of painters, who had spent several years in Italy around 1640. He appears to have signed his work only rarely and while the quality of his known works is good, as is obvious from the present example, the full scope of his oeuvre still remains unclear.
While in Daniel Seghers’ paintings the central image is usually of a religious subject, Van Balen and Van Kessel have opted here for an allegory. We see two putti, one of them dancing around, holding up a mask, the other clutching a silver-gilt chalice that is placed among other costly vessels, a string of pearls, and a gold medal on a chain. In the foreground lie some playing cards. The exact meaning of this allegory remains unclear, but there is probably an element of vanity involved.
Fred G. Meijer
Charles and Edith Neuman de Végvár were Romanian nationals living in Vienna prior to the Anschluss of March, 1938. Charles was a successful industrialist in textiles and agriculture. They had three children Eva, who would grow up to be the well-known sculptor Eva Reichl, Geza and Charles. Art played an integral part in the family’s life and their home at 17 Jacquingasse was filled with an important collection of mainly Dutch and Flemish seventeenth century paintings. Besides the Jan van Kessel other highlights included Abraham van Beyeren, Jan van Goyen, a pair of Jan van der Heydens, Philips Koninck and David Teniers, all now part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Following Hitler’s invasion of Austria the family departed for Switzerland with the intention of ultimately moving to Paris. Shortly thereafter their collection was seized. The Neuman de Végvárs negotiated a return of the collection by agreeing with the Austrian Nazi authorities to exchange five of their Austrian school old masters for two Italian and one Dutch painting and the selling of their Michael Pacher St. Barbara Altarpiece to Hermann Goering for 20,000 marks (at that price essentially a bribe). The collection was then sent to the Credit Lyonnais bank in Paris for storage, but in 1939 instead of moving to France the family immigrated to the United States. Goering who had not forgotten about the Neuman de Végvár collection in 1944 enlisted his agent in Paris, Bruno Lohse of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), to once again requisition the collection. According to his testimony Lohse undertook lengthy legalistic negotiations with the Devisenschutz Kommando (Foreign Currency Control) in April or May, 1944 to enable the ERR confiscation. Upon the collection’s arrival at the Jeu de Paume, where the ERR was based, the fifty confiscated works were catalogued and stamped with identifying marks of origin. Labeled at the time as a work by Daniel Seghers and Jan van Balen, our painting’s stretcher was stamped E identifying it as the property of the ERR and stenciled NEUM 5 for the collection. The ERR maintained meticulous records of looted objects in order to preserve the work’s provenance, unquestionable authenticity, and ensure their value in the world market.
The Allied Forces by the first week of August, 1944 had breached the German defenses at Normandy and begun the push to Paris. By August 1, 1944 in anticipation of this outcome, the ERR had cleared the Jeu de Paume of its holdings via cargo shipments on trains to various repositories in Germany and Austria. One of the largest was Schloss Neuschwanstein in Füssen, and it is there that the Neuman de Végvár collection was sent. Situated in upper Bavaria, the castle was one of the most extravagant buildings erected in the nineteenth century by King Ludwig II at the height of the Romantic Revival. Bruno Lohse was also dispatched to Schloss Neuschwanstein to guard the ERR records that had been sent along with numerous other French collections. The American Third and Seventh Armies along with the French First Army reached Neuschwanstein on April 28, 1945 meeting no resistance as the Germans had fled. Knowing the importance of the collection the castle held, it was sealed and placed off-limits until the arrival of the Monuments Men (The Monuments, Fine Art and Archives section of the Allied Forces) on May 8th. What the Monuments Men encountered upon entering the castle were clear signs that the ERR had tried to remove everything they could at the last minute, but left intact were room after room crammed with unopened crates, paintings, furniture, tapestries, golden objects, candelabras, books, silver, the world famous Rothschild jewelry collection and all importantly the ERR records. Bruno Lohse was found lodged in a nursing home in Füssen and arrested. The evacuation of the found property at Neuschwanstein ran from October 25th – November 2nd. The Neuman de Végvár collection was transferred to the Munich Central Collecting Point for final disposition, and documented on June 28, 1945. On October 30, 1946 part of the collection including our painting was repatriated to France and sent onto Paris where it was catalogued as a work by De Heem. On December 6, 1946 the Jan van Kessel was finally restituted to Charles Neuman de Végvár in New York.
 Biographical information taken from correspondence from Charles Neuman de Végvár to Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.) dated February 26, 1947; Art property belonging to Charles Neuman de Végvár, (U.S. Citizen) from James A. Garrison, Chief, Reparations, Deliveries and Restitutions Division of Headquarters United States Forces in Austria, Ref. US Claim #4, dated April 8, 1947; and Lisa Jacobs, Eva Reichl, E. & E. Design, Inc., 1999, p. 8.
 For a detailed description of these works see Walter Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, volume I, no. 7, pp. 32-34, no. 53, p. 238, nos. 78-79, pp. 335-340, no. 101, pp. 406-408; and Walter A. Liedtke, Flemish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, volume I, pp. 262-264, volume II, p. 110, pl. 1.1 101.
 Neuman de Végvár letter, op cit.; and Garrison document op. cit..
 Neuman de Végvár letter, op. cit.; and J. S. Plaut, Lieutenant USNR Director, Office of Strategic Services, Art Looting Investigation Unit, APO 413, U.S. Army, Activity of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in France, Consolidated Interrogation Report No., August 15, 1945, p. 11. The ERR was a Nazi party organization established in 1940 under the direction of Alfred Rosenberg. Starting in 1940 until the middle of 1944 their function in occupied France and the Low Countries involved looting of art from Jews and others deemed by the Nazis to have lost property rights.
 Major Edward E. Adams, Q. M. C., “Looted Art Treasures Go Back to France”, The Quartermaster Review, September – October, 1946, p. 3.
 Jonathan Petropoulos, The Faustian Bargain, The Art World in Nazi Germany, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 138; and Robert M. Edsel, The Monuments Men, Center Street, New York, 2009, p. 178.
 Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa, Random House, Inc., New York, 1995, pp. 340-342; and Robert M. Edsel, op. cit., pp. 350-351.