Although his splendid floral and fruit still lifes are admired and much sought after, relatively little is known of Abraham Mignon’s life. Born the son of shopkeepers in Frankfurt, Mignon was baptized in the Calvinist church on 21 June 1640. When his parents moved to Wetzlar nine years later, Abraham was placed in the care of Jacob Marrel, an art dealer and still life painter who assumed the boy’s artistic training. Impressed with his pupil’s prodigious abilities, Marrel asked Mignon to instruct his step-daughter, Maria Sibylla Merian, in still life painting. By 1664, Marrel had relocated to Utrecht, taking Mignon with him, where they were both registered at the Saint Luke Guild. Strongly religious throughout his life, Mignon was elected deacon of the Waalse Kerk in Utrecht in 1672. In 1675, he married Maria Willaerts, cousin of the marine painter Cornelis Willaerts. Mignon died only a few years later, aged 39, and was buried in Utrecht on 27 March 1679.
Despite his brief career, Mignon was prolific and specialized in forest-floor still lifes and bouquets of flowers placed on stone ledges or niches, such as the present painting. His distinct style is characterized by precise details and crisp drawing and reflects the influence of his teacher, Marrel, and most notably Jan Davidsz. de Heem. In 1669, Mignon entered the Utrecht painters guild, the same year that de Heem rejoined it upon his return from Antwerp. The impact of de Heem on Mignon, who may have been the older master’s pupil for a time, is most evident in the crystalline clarity of Mignon’s drawing, in his sharp, clear colors, and in his consistent use of dark backgrounds.
In the magnificent Shickman still life, a convex glass vase with a pedestal base stands in a grey niche with an arching oval top. The vase holds a bouquet of flowers gathered in a dense bunch; others spread out to the sides of the niche. Roses and wild poppies are depicted in all stages of bloom and fading, but the vase also holds bluebells, an iris and an open tulip. A large peacock butterfly sits on the vase, a smaller butterfly sits on the right of the stone ledge, a snail crawls on the ledge to the left of the bouquet.
Mignon regularly repeated specific motifs in his still lifes with only slight variations from painting to painting, and the central grouping of four flowers in the Shickman picture can be found reproduced exactly in a smaller still life on canvas sold at Sotheby’s, London, in 2000 (48 x 35 cm.; sold 6 July 2000, lot 70), and with small differences in another painting in the Ashmoleam Museum, Oxford. Several of the same flowers, the snail, butterfly and ear of corn are also found in a panel painting sold at Bonham’s, London, in 2003 (47 x 36.5 cm.; sold 10 December 2003, lot 53). Other versions of bouquets crowned with a fringed red poppy, tulips and irises are in the Louvre, Paris; the Mauritshuis, The Hague; and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Mignon regularly signed but seems never to have dated his paintings. Nonetheless, a loose chronology can be constructed from his evolving style, which gradually lost the softer naturalism of de Heem in favor of a sharper realism and more detailed technique. The present painting, which, following its sale in 1965, was restored to its original format, is likely datable to the years around 1670.