Vase of Flowers in a Stone Niche
Oil on panel. 71 x 52 cm.
This work depicts a serpentine vase in a niche filled with a magnificent bouquet of flowers. We see yellow lilies, red peonies, blue cornflowers, yellow daffodils, red and white roses, and tulips of many forms and colours. Fred Meijer has confirmed the present work to be an authentic piece by Ossias Beert, although it was long considered to be a product of the circle of Ambrosius Bosschaert.
The work displays characteristic elements of early Netherlandish flower still life painting as it was practiced shortly after 1600. The sombre, almost symmetrical arrangement of the blooms, the niche in which the vase stands, and the unnatural lengthening of the stems in order to present every flower from its most favourable angle. The erroneous attribution of the piece to the circle of Ambrosius Bosschaert in Middelburg is understandable as he was one of the earliest proponents of the flower still life. However, various elements such as the serpentine vase and the way the rose petals are depicted like frames around the flowers all point to Ossias Beert as the author of this work and Antwerp as its origin. Ossias Beert presumably first learnt about the flower still life genre through Jan Brueghel, who introduced it to Antwerp in his masterpieces around 1600.
The question of how the flower still life came to establish itself as an independent genre, and how it rose to popularity in both the northern and southern Netherlands so shortly after its genesis has not yet been fully explained. However, this work indicates several possible explanations: The beauty and opulence of the blooms, which were often imported from abroad or specially bred, made these flowers worthy of depiction in art. They were also frequently depicted in valuable containers and vases. The precise depiction of the myriad textures and colours of the flowers demonstrated the remarkable ability of the medium of painting to present an illusionistic mirror image of nature. The depiction of the still life in a niche only served to increase this illusionistic effect, and the butterfly perching on the edge of the stone slab further blurs the line between painted image and reality.
Ossias Beert was primarily known for his dessert still lifes, in which he presented oysters, biscuits, and flowers in opulent containers strewn upon richly laden tables. In his flower still lifes he frequently depicts the blossoms in a variety of bowls and vases, arranging them to elegant compositions. Beert, who was active in Antwerp throughout his entire career, was among the earliest proponents of Flemish still life painting, and exerted a strong and lasting influence on the genre in the years to come.
Written confirmation of authenticity by Fred Meijer of the RKD in The Hague dated 10.2.2014 (RKD-Nr. 14687).
Auctioned by Sotheby´s, London, 3.12.1960, lot 95. - P. de Boer art dealers, Amsterdam. - In a German private collection since 1963.
Sam Segal: Flowers and Nature. Netherlandish Flower Painting of Four Centuries. Amstelveen 1990, p. 183, no. 50b.