The Pause That Refreshes: Taking a Quilting Break in an Art Museum

Inspiration-J:  Detail of Jan Van Huysum painting Mauritshuis, The Hague
Detail from a Jan Van Huysum still life included in “Memory of the Netherlands” exhibit, Mauritshuis, The Hague.

As you may have surmised from my recent post series, I’ve been on a quilt-finishing kick lately. Do you know what’s better than finishing quilts? Giving them away, of course! I’m recently returned from a transcontinental quilt-delivery spree having surprised my high-school friend in Florida with that Kaffe Fassett hexagon quilt and celebrating my sister-in-law’s recent birthday with a scrappy jelly-roll quilt. (I’ve got styled shots of her quilt ready for my Friday post–stay tuned!)

What’s the reward for this frenzy of creativity? Ah . . . a refreshing trip to The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles where I had an encounter with my favorite still-life artist of a bygone age, Jan Van Huysum. As my “art” vernacular has grown over time, I find myself worshipping 17th-century Dutch artists. These are paintings I passed on for years as I delved into late 19th- and early 20th-century art when I was a tagalong to my mother’s museum visits. At that time,  she was experimenting in Impressionist and Expressionist styles in her oil paintings–she segued to clay sculpture after that. My college years were devoted to Renaissance art following studies abroad in Europe and studying/living in proximity to the extensive collection of Old World masters at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Inspiration-J: Partial view of Jan Van Huysum still life from National Gallery
Still Life with Flowers and Fruit, c. 1715, National Gallery, Washington, D.C. (partial view)

Although Vermeer’s been my passion for a long time, Jan Van Huysum’s incredible still life paintings are grabbing my attention now. It’s funny, I probably walked by a stellar Van Huysum in the National Gallery’s West Wing about a dozen times before I truly stopped and looked. Wow! While Vermeer opened my eyes to glowing natural light and capturing quiet moments, Van Huysum stuns me with his ability to capture the most perfect details in the play of light and shadow. His water droplets sparkle, his flowers are so alive they practically scent the air, his fruit beg tasting, and myriad tiny insects buzz, crawl, and flit in the artful, colorful, natural abundance.

Inspiration-J:  Detail of Jan Van Huysum painting Mauritshuis, The Hague
Detail from a Van Huysum still life included in “Memory of the Netherlands” exhibit, Mauritshuis, The Hague.

I’m having a light bulb moment as I write this post: I started adding little bugs to my dimensional applique still life quilts after I had my Jan Van Huysum revelation at the National Gallery. (Also, Diana McClun’s husband prompted me to add a spider to my first buggy quilt.) How weird is that connection? And here I thought I was so clever!

My little silver/pewter spider.
My little silver/pewter spider.

So, did my obsession with photographing floral arrangements start with Van Huysum or am I obsessed with his still life portraits because I’m a flower girl? Whatever! Like every other blossom-mad quilter, I’m just going to enjoy the journey without excessive self examination. (Although I will visit every Jan Van Huysum painting I can find in France this summer!)

I close with a flashback image from my first See How We Sew post–yes, Jennifer is indeed possessed by a flower mania . . .

My first still life photograph--not quite the scale of Jan Van Huysum, but I'll get there someday.
My first still life photograph–not quite the scale of Jan Van Huysum, but I’ll get there someday.

May your quilts and gardens bloom!


p.s. If you are near one of the museums on the national tour, do catch the Dutch masters exhibit featuring Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring.


3 thoughts on “The Pause That Refreshes: Taking a Quilting Break in an Art Museum

  1. My husband and I are member of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and are invited to pre-opening events which are always crowded but a wonderful experience as we get to see the exhibits before they open, along with some wine, cheese and dessert! I strongly recommend that if you can afford to become a member of your local museum as the benefits and advantages far out-weigh the costs. We frequently get additional complementary tickets to return and/or give to family members/friends which we have done and it widens the circle of viewers to some fantastic art. For travelers, you also have privileges at museums around the world included in some levels of membership, in addition to being a tax-deductible donation.


    1. Membership in our local museums is indeed a wonderful way to experience art and creativity. I agree, Rosemary, we do have wonderful exhibition opportunities here in the San Francisco Bay Area and museum membership really expose members to a broad sweep of art. My first art museum experience was the Norton Gallery in West Palm Beach, Florida. That’s where I went with my mother. It was tiny and intimate back in the day, but now it’s morphed into a a much bigger deal regionally. It’ll always be my sentimental favorite because that’s where I had my first lessons in “art appreciation.” I love the big, national art museums, but they overwhelm me and I have to pace myself as I tour them. For scalable pleasure I LOVE The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.–it houses Renoir’s Boating Party and other gems. It’s amazing what you can find in the smaller, local museums and galleries.


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