This profusion of luscious fruit and flowers, just past their best, may be a celebration of nature, though it’s anything but natural. The pineapple balanced precariously on top of a tower of flowers is enough to place it in the realms of fantasy. The whole picture looks as if it has been blown together by the wind and is about to topple over.
Van Os drifts pink roses up the spine of the arrangement to a white tulip that’s losing its red streaked petals. This type of tulip – the Semper Augustus – was, like the pineapple, highly prized, even when dying.
The microscope, a new invention, made it possible for artists to paint the insects in their pictures with great accuracy. Here, a fly promenades up the stem of a deep red rose and a painted lady butterfly perches in the shelter of a tulip petal.
This profusion of overblown flowers and luscious fruit may be a celebration of nature, though it’s anything but natural. The rare and costly pineapple balanced precariously on top of the tower of flowers is enough to place it in the realms of fantasy. The whole picture looks as if it has been blown together by the wind and is about to topple over. The most stable things appear to be the butterflies and other insects that pick their way among the lushness on expert feet.
Van Os drifts pale pink roses up the spine of the arrangement to reach a white tulip that’s losing its red-streaked petals. This type of tulip – the Semper Augustus – was highly prized, even when dying. A yellow rose and a knot of blue primulas seem to pin the composition together, with grapes spilling down on either side. Darker flowers on the lower right – a deep red rose and nasturtiums – just about balance the pineapple above. The pale yellow hollyhock, high up on the left, looks so indistinct compared with the detail and clear colours of the rest that it almost appears to be growing from behind the bouquet.
The microscope, a new invention, made it possible for artists to paint the insects in their pictures with great accuracy. A fly promenades up the stem of a deep red rose, silhouetted against the white skin of a peach behind it. A painted lady butterfly perches in the shelter of a tulip petal. The bird’s nest with its speckled eggs, and the little mouse with its bright, black eye, dining on a walnut, are added delights.
A dragonfly with iridescent wings perches on the terracotta shelf where lush grapes surround van Os’s signature and the date, made to look as if carved into the stone. He has given two dates, 1777 and 1778. It’s sometimes suggested that this means an artist had waited for the various flowers to be in bloom and fruit to ripen before they were painted, but this is unlikely. Flower painters kept copious sketch books and drawings of plants that they could refer to and transfer into a painting at any time.
Helping the illusion of closeness to nature, van Os has placed the arrangement against the light, slightly blurred background of an aristocratic garden, with classical columns on the left, and trees on the right, softly illuminated by the sun. The design of Dutch gardens at this time was regarded as supreme, as were the blooms they contained.
Download an 800px wide, 72dpi copy of this image.
License and download a high resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.
This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.
Examples of non-commercial use are:
The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.
As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.
You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.