A unique find and a touching love story: that is the acquisition of two Dutch delftware flower-holder figurines representing William III, Stadtholder of the United Netherlands and King of England, Scotland and Ireland, and his English consort Mary. After forty years in two separate private collections, the royal couple was at last reunited last year. The Gemeentemuseum The Hague has now managed to acquire the tall flower-holders (42.5 cm in height) and preserve them for the nation. The objects rank among the top examples of Dutch delftware anywhere in the world. Benno Tempel: “They are not only one of the Netherlands’ most important acquisitions of Dutch delftware for many years, they are also a powerful symbol of the economic prosperity of Golden Age Holland and of the nation’s rich royal history. It’s like discovering a new picture by Vermeer or Rembrandt.”
The Gemeentemuseum is extremely proud to have acquired this unique pair of delftware vases. No comparable flower-holders representing full-length court figures or marital partners are known to exist anywhere in the world. The figures are attired in the latest fashions of the 17th century, the man wearing an oriental inspired ‘Japonse rock’ (banyan) and the woman a mantua (court gown). These costumes, in combination with the exclusive jewellery and coiffure, allow the couple to be firmly identified as William and Mary.
Until 2014 William was part of a private collection in France, while Mary was in the possession of a Belgian collector. Art dealer Robert Aronson traced the two figures and managed to reunite them in 2014. Immediately after this, they were taken to an antiques fair in the United States. In a last-minute move, however, the Gemeentemuseum was able – with the support of the Rembrandt Society, the Mondriaan Fund, VSB Fund, Hendrik Muller Fund and the Friends of the Gemeentemuseum – to buy the magnificent pair and so to prevent their disappearance into a private collection in America.
Royal ambassador for Dutch delftware
The figures holding flower baskets were produced in around 1690 at one of Delft’s leading faience works: the Grieksche A. This particular pottery was a supplier to William and Mary during their residence in both Holland and England. Famous for her passion for Dutch delftware, Mary is now regarded as the foremost contemporary ‘royal’ ambassador for this archetypically Dutch product. It is touching to see the couple immortalised in the Blue Delft they loved so much.
Blue Delft and the tulip: twin icons of Holland
Mary was in love not only with Dutch delftware, but also with – then exotic – flowers like anemones, carnations, ranunculus and tulips. In the 17th century, these were extremely expensive. Luxurious delftware flower baskets and ‘tulip vases’ were a favourite way of showing them off, especially among royalty. These days, both tulips and Blue Delft enjoy far wider popularity and have even come to symbolise Holland. This fact has prompted the Gemeentemuseum and the Keukenhof bulb gardens to engage in a new, long-term partnership linking the two Dutch icons. The presentation of the new acquisition on 23 April 2015 will be the first example of this collaboration.
The Gemeentemuseum’s acquisition of this previously unknown type of flower-holder represents a major addition to the national art collection and cultural heritage of Holland. It also crowns the Gemeentemuseum’s long-running Dutch delftware research project, which led in 2007 to the publication of the museum’s book on Delft flower-holders, Vases with Spouts. Three Centuries of Splendour, and associated events. And the reuniting of the royal couple has added a touching love story to the nation’s history.