This beautifully preserved work was, since the nineteenth century, paired with the flowerpiece sold earlier this year in these Rooms (4 July 2010, lot 4, £503,250) and it is conceivable that the two coppers were born together as pendants. Daniel Seghers’ ‘pure’ flower bouquets, of which only about thirty are known to exist, have been described as 'among the most serenely beautiful things in the history of flower painting' (P. Mitchell, European Flower Painters, London, 1973, p. 234) and 'la part la plus belle de son œuvre' (M.-L. Hairs, Les peintres flamands de fleurs au XVIIe siècle, Brussels, 1985, p. 134).
Seghers was born in Antwerp, but after his father's death he was taken by his mother to live in Utrecht, where his artistic training began. In 1609, or 1610, he returned to Antwerp where he completed his training under Jan Breughel the Elder, with whom he developed his unmistakable sureness of touch and purity of colour. In 1614, perhaps encouraged by Jan Breughel, Seghers joined the Jesuit Order, taking his final vows in 1625. After then, Seghers, as in this case, used a signature to denote his allegiance to the Jesuits who received all payments for his work.
Known to his contemporaries as ‘Pater Seghers’, he achieved considerable fame in his own lifetime, securing the patronage of many of the most important collectors of the day, such as Scipione Borghese (1577-1633), patron of Caravaggio and Bernini; the Dutch stadholder Frederik Hendrik (1584-1647) and his court; Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689); the Antwerp collector and patron of Anthony van Dyck, Cornelis van der Geest (1575-1638); and the Dutch polymath Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), who eulogised about Seghers, writing that ‘his painted flowers appeared so lifelike that he could almost smell them’ (see W. Couvreur, 'Daniël Seghers’ inventaris van door hem geschilderde bloemstukken', Gentse bijdragen tot de kunstgeschiedenis en de oudheidkunde, XX, 1967, pp. 95, 104, 107, 119, nos. 15, 88, 93, 104, 190).
The extent of Seghers’ artistic success is made clear by the existence of a list of works drawn up by the artist that numbers 239 pictures (ibid., pp. 87-158). While the inventory attests to an extensive output, his range was largely limited to cartouches and flower garlands, often surrounding religious images executed in collaboration with other artists. Small-scale, 'pure' flower paintings like the present work are comparatively rare. A similar one, also on copper, was sold recently in Paris, Drouot, 14 December 2018, lot 55 (€650,000).
These pictures are remarkable for their simplicity and their jewel-like, luminous clarity. In the same way that his garlands were perceived as a stimulus for religious contemplation, it seems likely - particularly in view of the artist's own religious convictions - that these small works were also intended for meditation, albeit on a more intimate and less overtly religious level. Lawrence Nichols has discussed the possibility that these 'pure' still-lifes were actually full of symbolic meaning (see L.W. Nichols, in The Age of Rubens, exhibition catalogue, Ghent, 1994, p. 509). Thus, the metaphoric associations of the flowers in the present work may be seen to allude directly to those religious virtues associated with the Virgin: the white rose symbolic of purity, the pink rose of love, and the tulips, in this context, as symbols of virginity.