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This signed painting is the only known work by Marie Blancour, a French woman who is thought to have lived during the seventeenth century.
A bunch of flowers is crammed into a terracotta pot. Many are in the final stages of bloom: the daffodil’s yellow petals are fully open and the weighty white viburnum heads droop at the bottom left. Our eye is led deeper into the picture by the large red poppy head facing away from us and the viburnum head at the lower left, which is partly in shadow to suggest that it’s further away than the one in the light. Red and white tulips were popular during the seventeenth century and found in the work of Dutch and Flemish artists, which Blancour must surely have seen.
Not all of these flowers bloom at the same time, so Blancour worked from individual studies made throughout the year in order to create this fictional arrangement.
This is the only known work by Marie Blancour, a French woman who is thought to have lived during the seventeenth century. Her signature is clearly visible on the stone ledge at the bottom of the painting. We don't know when Blancour’s painting was made but it could have been during the 1650s.
A bunch of flowers is crammed into a terracotta pot. Blancour has chosen them to create height and width in the bouquet, and to distribute colour – we move from red poppy at the top, to the red and white tulips, and then to the white viburnum with its tightly bunched flower heads and white petals at the bottom. Many of the flowers are in the final stages of bloom: the yellow petals of the narcissus or daffodil are fully open, just above it one of the tulip’s petals is about to fall off, and the weighty viburnum flower heads droop towards the stone ledge at the bottom left. The blue of the primula creates a subtle contrast with the expanse of red and white, and the single red anemone or wind flower adds to the variety of sizes and textures of the flower heads that surround it. The artist attempts to lead our eye deeper into the picture by placing the large red poppy head facing away from us and showing the lowest viburnum head partly in shadow and giving it a green tinge to suggest that it’s further away than the one in the light. The way the light falls at different angles on the flowers makes them look three-dimensional.
Our painting by Rachel Ruysch, Flowers in a Vase, painted during the 1680s, is a much more refined and skilful flower painting. Blancour is comparatively less successful at using the effects of light and shadow to lead our eye deeper into the picture, and portraying intricate details taken from the close study of each flower type. However, there are similarities in the choice of flowers: both artists use white aquilegia and white viburnum.
Not all of these flowers bloom at the same time, so the artist would have worked from individual drawings or painted studies made throughout the year. Individual flower species had symbolic meanings during the seventeenth century: anemones had a religious significance, tulips symbolised desire and narcissi represented the dangers of being self-absorbed. It is not clear whether the flowers in this painting were intended to convey such meanings, whether they symbolised the transience of human life in general, or whether they were simply to be enjoyed as decorative objects.
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