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Christoffel Van Den Berghe (Active in Middelburg circa 1617-1628), Tulips, roses, narcissi, daffodils, crocuses, an iris, a poppy and other flowers in a gilt mounted porcelain vase on a ledge, with a queen of Spain fritillary, a white ermine and a magpie butterfly. Photo courtesy Sotheby's

oil on copper; 30.7 by 20.5 cm.; 12 1/8 by 8 1/8 in. Estimate 250,000-350,000 GBP. Lot sold: 626,500 GBP

PROVENANCE: Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 17 December 1999, lot 9 (as Circle of Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder);
With Richard Green, London, from whom acquired by a private collector;
Anonymous sale ('Property of a Private Collector'), New York, Sotheby's, 23 January 2003, lot 39 (as Van den Berghe) for $290,000, where acquired by the late father of the present owner.

NOTE: Van den Berghe’s importance within the sphere of Dutch still life painting has been long-recognised but it is perhaps due to the scarcity of still lifes by him (less than ten are known) that he remains a much-overlooked figure in the birth and rise in popularity of the genre at the beginning of the 17th century. This would appear to be Van den Berghe’s earliest work, earlier even than the 1618-dated copper in the John G. Johnson collection that is both his best-known and his most Bosschaert-ian.1  Bol surmised that Van den Berghe must surely have seen Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder’s earlier works in his home town of Middelburg, a supposition which seems almost certain, and proposes that he might have been Bosschaert’s pupil. Bosschaert left Middelburg in 1614 and the likeness in palette and execution of both the Johnson copper and the present still life to early Middelburg-period Bosschaerts is undeniable. In this painting the artist has in fact borrowed the yellow and red tulip (upper right) from a 1608-dated Bosschaert.2 The globular porcelain vase recalls that of Bosschaert’s earliest dated bouquet from 1605.

While the pert, elongated tulips here show a marked similarity with those of the Johnson picture their execution in this latter is a little smoother and this, as Fred Meijer has pointed out, argues in favour of an earlier dating for the present work, probably by just a year or two, to circa 1616-17. Both works are set against dark backgrounds illuminated by an even, bright light, and share a similar density. The coloring, too, is very comparable, with white and strong yellow accents, interspaced by reds, and both share the single dark blue flower embedded rather prominently in the lower half of each arrangement. On its own, the extraordinary condition of this painting permits a close scrutiny of Van den Berghe’s early technique while the sculptural quality of its tulips, their rich pigmentation and fine detail throughout the bouquet mark it out as an exceptional example of early Dutch still life painting and of a genre of painting less than two decades old.

Though known also as a painter of landscapes, it is his handful of still lifes that distinguish Van den Berghe above others of his generation. He is recorded as a member of the guild in Middelburg in 1619 (when he is mentioned as ‘beleeder’) and again in 1621, and was still living there in 1628, at which point all records of him cease. Previously it had been thought that a Game piece sold in Middelburg in 1779, reported as being signed and dated 1642, provided proof of his existence beyond the 1620s, but description, size and signature correspond perfectly with the 1624 work in the Getty, Los Angeles; the 1642 date given in 1779 must therefore have been an error in transcription.

1. See L.J. Bol, The Bosschaert Dynasty, Leigh-on-Sea 1960, p. 55, reproduced plate 64
2. Sold London, Sotheby’s, 11 December 1985, lot 43

Sotheby's. Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale. London | 03 juil. 2013, 07:00 PM - www.sothebys.com