by Leon Arduous
'Fields of Hell' - a painting mystery.
This case concerns the disappearance of the right panel of the diptych 'Pascuum of
Satanas', more commonly referred to today as 'Fields of Hell' (1703 oil on wooden
panels 56" x 128"). It was by the Dutch artist Hans Van Vfeete (Leyden 1654 - St
Louis 1738/9). Van Vfeete was know to have studied in the studio of Jan Steen and
based his powerful diptych on Steen's 'The Merry Family', but with a much more
sinister and disturbing message. For years powerful clerics and other educated men
refused to even discuss the implications of this extraordinary work.
Deatil from the left hand panel of the dyptic ....
The last Van Vfeete work to be sold was a domestic study titled 'English
Chamber Pots' - bought by A. van der Hoop from John Mathew Beetsoff, London,
in 1833. Van Vfeete recorded only 31 finished oil paintings, 10 watercolours and 65
drawings and 'acquaints'. Superstition and gossip spawned a rumour about ambiguous
fortune following those who collected Van Vfeets's works. (see report in 'The
Gentleman's Magazine', London July, 1812 -'Cursed Work of Dutch Master?') The
paintings were rarely displayed to the public gaze.
A recent estimate of a single panel of the diptych based on inflation and
the current interest in mystical works of the eighteenth century has valued
the work, not in the millions, but in the 'hundreds of millions' .... It is
thought the piece is almost certainly lying undiscovered in either America
or rural France.
The diptych 'Pascuuum of Satanas' was Vfeet's largest and most perplexing piece
Only one panel was recovered after the original theft of the painting in 1885, and that
was extensively damaged by the warehouse fire of 1889. Acccording to early
descriptions (Boston Weelky Recorder) of the missing panel it is of 'breathtaking
beauty' or 'ultimate evil' depending on the 'moral purity of the spectator'. All that
remains are the fragments shown on the web site. The search for the second panel was largely forgotten until a PhD student researching the background of a female circus acrobat referred to in JORIS-KARL HUYSMAN'S 'Against Nature' unearthed a revealing document(the attachment
on the Cowdisley site is the relevant translated excerpt).
Van Vfeete was, according to other Jan Steen pupils, one of the school's most
promising students and he was admitted to the Leyden Guild at the record early age of
17 years and 9 months. Soon thereafter, tragedy entered his life: his sister, aged four,
drowned in a pail while attempting to recover a small frog; his mother, who he also
adored, was mistaken for a witch and strangled. Grief stricken, he joined the Puritans
in Bristol and travelled with them to the New World in the 'Americas'. It was,
however, after he grew disillusioned by the strict Puritan rules regarding the painting
of religious scenes, and the making of idols, that he left the society and painted his
Leon Arduous is a feature writer of the 'Blind eye' Magazine. He is also a poet and collector of 19th-century European and Victorian prophylactics.