Ambrosius Bosschaert I (Antwerp 1573-1621 The Hague)
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Ambrosius Bosschaert I (Antwerp 1573-1621 The Hague)

Tulips, roses, bluebells, Narcissus tortuosis, forget-me-nots, lily of the valley and cyclamen in a flask on a stone ledge with a caterpillar, butterfly and dragonfly

Details
Ambrosius Bosschaert I (Antwerp 1573-1621 The Hague)
Tulips, roses, bluebells, Narcissus tortuosis, forget-me-nots, lily of the valley and cyclamen in a flask on a stone ledge with a caterpillar, butterfly and dragonfly
oil on copper
7 5/8 x 5 7/8 in. (19.3 x 14.9 cm.)
Provenance
Estella Boas-Kogel (1876-1944), Baarn, on loan to Centraal Museum, Utrecht.
H. Oelze, Amsterdam, from whom acquired by the following
with Gallery P. de Boer, Amsterdam, 1959.
S. van Praag, Blaricum, 1963.
with Gallery P. de Boer, Amsterdam, 1974, from whom acquired by the father of the following
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 26 January 2011, lot 20 ($1,426,500 to the present owner).
Literature
M.L. Hairs, Les peintres flamands de fleurs au XVII siècle, Paris and Brussels, 1955, p. 198.
L.J. Bol, The Bosschaert Dynasty: Paintings of flowers and fruit, Leigh-on-Sea, 1960, p. 64, no. 29.
M.L. Hairs, Les peintres flamands de fleurs au XVII siècle, Paris and Brussels, 1965, p. 354.
Exhibited
Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, Nederlandse stillevens uit de zeventiende eeuw, 21 July-21 September 1962, no. 28.
Laren, Singer Museum, Modernen van Toen 1570-1630, 15 June-1 September 1963, no. 24.
Amsterdam, Waterman Gallery, Masters of Middelburg: Exhibition in the honour of Laurens J. Bol, March 1984, no. 1.
Special notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Lot Essay

The arrival of the tulip in Europe created a sensation. It is thought that Ogier de Busbecq, the Ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I to the Sultan of Turkey, was the first to send tulip bulbs and seeds to Vienna in 1554 from the Ottoman Empire. By the late sixteenth century the tulip had become highly coveted across Europe, a rare and exotic breed of flower, whose saturated, intensely coloured petals were astonishingly different and more variable than any other flower in Europe at that time. It took a painstaking seven to twelve years to grow a flower bulb from a seed, and then these precious flowers would only bloom in April and May for about a week. Such flowers were passionately collected and traded, the more elaborate varieties for ever higher prices, especially in the Netherlands, where the highly speculative 'tulip mania' bubble would burst so notoriously in 1637.

It is against this background that Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder emerged as a spectacular pioneer in the genre of the flower still life. His earliest-known compositions are likely to date to before 1605, the year of his first dated work, and would go on to influence future generations of artists, including his brother-in-law, Balthasar van der Ast, who trained in his studio. Originally from Antwerp, Bosschaert's family had been forced to flee the Spanish Netherlands in the late 1580s to avoid religious persecution, settling in Middelburg, a prosperous trading centre and the capital of Zeeland, renowned for its botanical gardens. Bosschaert enrolled in the Guild of Saint Luke in 1593 and was also active as an art dealer.

As is evident in this extraordinarily delicate painting in oil on copper, Bosschaert's compositions were elegantly simple and balanced, with a careful, almost scientific, regard for detailing each flower as accurately as possible. By placing these blooms in a plain glass beaker against a dark background, the artist focuses the viewer's attention, like a spotlight on a stage, on the sheer beauty of the flowers, which consist of a pink and a white rose, bluebells, Narcissus tortuosis, forget-me-nots, lily of the valley and a cyclamen, crowned by three glorious, striped tulips. Light glints and refracts around the edges of the vase. The trompe-l'oeil illusion of reality is made more all the more convincing by portraying this bouquet in such an undefined space, where the boundaries between background and foreground are deliberately blurred. The jewel-like quality of this object is due to the precious copper support and its distinctive luminosity is achieved by the use of a white ground. Only about fifty works by Bosschaert are now known; this still life is the prime version of three known renditions of the composition - and the only one by Bosschaert, according to Fred Meijer of the RKD, who dates this painting to around 1608-9 (written communication, 10 December 2010). Another version, bearing a signature, is recorded as having formerly been with P. de Boer Gallery, Amsterdam (Bol, op. cit., no. 28, pl. 18b).

Like tulips themselves, Bosschaert's paintings were highly esteemed during the artist's own lifetime. He frequently portrayed flowers that blossomed at different times of the year, and he must have worked from preparatory studies. It has also been suggested that he may have received his first commissions from Middelburg botanists, eager for accurate documentation of the variety of floral species. In a sense, the gardens of these collectors and 'amateurs' formed an open-air (and tantalisingly transient) counterpart to the Kunstkammer collections of treasures being formed indoors around this period, and it was therefore a natural step to want to record these precious flowers. Above all, the success of such paintings - then, as now - lies in their straightforward ability to please. Such painted blooms were able to provide pleasure and beauty all year round, an advantage mentioned by writers as early as Erasmus, who in his Colloquia explained: 'Moreover, we are twice pleased when we see a painted flower competing with a living one. In one we admire the artifice of nature, in the other the genius of the painter, in each the goodness of God' - in the ensuing debate one man remarks that the painted garden 'grows and pleases even in mid-winter' (see A. Chong in Still-life painting in the Netherlands 1550-1720, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle, 1999, p. 26).

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