Jan van Huysum (1682-1749)
Vase of Flowers and a Bird’s Nest
oil on oak panel, 15.35 x 12.60 in. (39 x 32 cm)
Prior to the war, Jan van Huysum’s Vase of Flowers and a Bird’s Nest was housed in the Old Masters Picture Gallery (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister) of the Dresden State Art Collections (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden), in Germany. This collection of paintings, along with 450,000 pieces from the collection of the Cabinet of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs (Kupferstich-Kabinett) and the porcelain collection, were moved for safekeeping to Weesenstein Castle, approximately 12 miles (20 km) from Dresden, in 1942.
Weesenstein Castle had been owned by the Saxon royal family before being sold to the industrialist Alwin Bauer in 1917. Due to the increasing costs of upkeeping such a property, it was purchased from Bauer’s heir by the National Association of Saxon Homeland Protection (Landesverein Sächsischer Heimatschutz eV). It was hoped that the castle would become a public museum, however the onset of World War II prevented this.
The castle was chosen as an art repository for its secluded position away from any major city and for its ideal climate. Along with the Dresden collections, 200 framed watercolors and drawings destined for the Führermuseum in Linz were kept there, as well as around seventy paintings from Frankfurt, Dortmund, and Wiesbaden. As the fighting on the Eastern front approached Dresden in early spring of 1945, the castle was repeatedly considered as a potential operational base by the Wehrmacht, particularly for the SS. These plans were never realized as Dresden museum staff rejected the idea, worried about the potential damage could cause to the art stored there.
The final, chaotic days of the war ended with the Soviet occupation of Dresden. Almost immediately afterwards, the Soviet Trophy Brigades entered Weesenstein Castle to choose the best works to ship back to Russia. According to Hermann Voss, the then director of the Dresden collections and the Special Commission Linz (Sonderauftrages Linz), the organization responsible for acquiring works of art for the planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria, the Soviet forces selected the greater part of the Dresden paintings, along with some other works and the majority of the Linz drawings and watercolors.
The Van Huysum painting was taken some time after July 16, 1942, the date it was evacuated to Weesenstein Castle. The exact circumstances of its loss are unknown, as most of the Dresden paintings were relocated several times throughout the war until the early months of 1945. It is likely that this painting was removed from either Weesenstein castle or a later repository by local citizenry, displaced persons in the area, or the Soviet Trophy Brigades. Other works that were stored in Weesenstein Castle have since been returned from Russian institutions. In 1986, a Russian journalist presented a Holbein drawing to the British Museum for examination; it was found to have been one of the Linz drawings, originally from the forced sale of the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam.