Van Brussel’s painting is a celebration of nature, and also a clever piece of deception: in one vase he shows flowers that are in bloom at different times of the year. To achieve this, he would have used sketches made when the flowers were available.
His precise drawing and fluid brushwork enable him to evoke different subtle textures – delicate tendrils and curling petals, spiky twigs, delicate butterfly wings. Transparent raindrops trickle down leaves and the yolk oozes from one of the tiny eggs in the bird’s nest.
The flowers in the picture are not the individual exotic specimens shown by artists a hundred years earlier. Tulips, narcissi, poppies, roses, stocks and peonies had become easily available. Van Brussel has massed them together in a delightful disorder, placing his bouquet against the background of a garden with classical statues, in the French Rococo style that had become popular in the Netherlands.
Paulus Theodorus van Brussel’s painting is a lush celebration of nature, but also a piece of clever deception: in one vase he shows flowers that are in bloom at different times of the year. To achieve this, he would have used sketches made when the flowers were available, to be added into a picture when required.
His precise drawing and fluid brushwork enabled him to evoke different subtle textures – spiralling tendrils and curling leaves, spiky stalks, delicate butterfly wings. Sap oozes from a broken tulip stem, its dying yellow and red petals almost sculptural as they reach down over the pink roses lying on the stone shelf. Every tiny thorn, ready to prick the unsuspecting finger, is visible on the rose stem. Transparent raindrops trickle down nearby leaves and the yolk seeps from one of the tiny eggs in the bird’s nest.
Higher up, a bumblebee buries itself into the heart of a white peony. Nearby, a delicate ant practices balancing tricks on a petal; a narcissus seems to peer at it from the depths of the bouquet. Up again, to the left, a large copper butterfly eagerly reaches its antenna to embrace a blue flower. Another butterfly, probably a skipper, treads delicately on an iris placed, as it often is in Dutch flower paintings, at the top of the arrangement: queen of all flowers.
The blooms in the picture are not the individual exotic specimens shown by artists a hundred years or more earlier – look at the stiff, immaculate blooms in A Still Life of Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase on a Ledge with further Flowers, Shells and a Butterfly by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. Over time, iris, narcissi, stocks and peonies, even the once-priceless tulips, had become easily available, and were treated much less iconically.
Like Bosschaert, van Brussel painted in oil on a copper base. Paint ran more smoothly on copper than on canvas, making it possible to capture intricate detail. Bosschaert placed his flowers in a costly Chinese porcelain vase, giving them status as rare objects; van Brussel has chosen a terracotta urn. While prettily decorated, its heavy, reddish earthenware appears closer to nature and more in keeping with less expensive flowers.
Van Brussel has massed these flowers together in a delightful disorder. He places his bouquet against the background of a garden with classical statues, in the popular, more relaxed, French Rococo style that was introduced to the Netherlands by Jan van Huysum. Van Huysum painted for a French clientele till late in the eighteenth century; van Brussel made this picture in 1792. It is perhaps strange to think of Dutch artists painting in a style popular with the French aristocracy while revolution raged there, opposing all that the aristocracy stood for – including ravishing oil paintings of flowers.
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