Flourishing in Northern Europe from the 17th century, still life painting emerged as a distinct genre during the early 1600s. Although frescos and mosaics depicting everyday objects appeared throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the recognition of still life painting as an independent genre and professional specialisation in Western painting began with Netherlandish paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries. Partially due to the Northern European Reformation leading to a decline of religious iconographic art and the increase of urbanisation of Dutch and Flemish society, still life paintings grew in popularity, reflecting the era's scientific interest in the natural world.
An arrangement of inanimate, everyday objects, whether natural objects or manufactured items, a still life painting’s composition includes objects for the sake of their qualities. Many of the objects included in early works are religiously symbolic, while others objects may provide the viewer with moral or intellectual instruction. This theme of moral instruction is also common in still-life paintings of the 17th century. In general, the objects chosen to be included in a still life painting reflect all the aspects and diversions of everyday life.
Floral still lifes enjoyed a prominence in the 1600s with artists referring to herbals and botanical texts to create exquisitely detailed bouquets of flowers from around the world captured in a single moment of perfect bloom. At a time when new, exotic flowers were becoming known and sought after by botanists, and with a population with a growing interest in botany, the extravagant inclusions of flowers that would have never been seen together in nature speaks to the evolution of the times.
Paul Theodor van Brussel (Dutch 1754–1795)’s beautifully executed Still Life of Spring Flowers in a Footed Urn is a stunning example of a 18th century Dutch floral still life. With irises, daffodils, tulips, peonies, delphiniums and other flowers in perfect bloom, overlapping and intertwining with one another and inclusions of a butterfly gently hovering over the arrangement, a small nest cradling eggs and delicate drops of water shining from petals and leaves, the artist’s attention to extraordinary naturalistic detail typifies the late Dutch style of flower painting.
Van Brussel was born near Schoonhoven, Netherlands in 1754. His first teacher was the Haarlem painter Jan Augustini (1729–1773), a landscape painter who started his career working on pictures of flora for botanists. Van Brussel worked for Augustini, making decorative paintings for the walls of wealthy patrons homes. He continued his career as a pupil under Hendrik Meyer of Haarlem who is best known for his meticulous draftsmanship of figured landscapes.
First employed in the manufacture of tapestry, Van Brussel afterwards devoted his attention entirely to nature, and became one of the best still life artists of his time. Van Brussel’s life was tragically cut short when he drowned while ice skating at the age of 41. This accident has meant that his works are rare but highly sought after by private collectors and institutions. His colourful and highly finished paintings feature in prominent collections throughout Europe including the collections of the National Gallery, London, and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
AUCTION | The Classic Tradition : European Art from 15th to 19th Centuries | Wednesday 30 October at 1pm | London
VIEWING | Mon 28 October 10am - 5pm | Tues 29 October 10am - 5pm | Morning of the sale from 9am
LOCATION | 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AH