Lot 20. Osias Beert the Elder (Antwerp (?) circa 1580 (?) - 1624), Still life of tulips and an apothecary's rose in a stoneware vase, irises and lilies in a glass vase, together with roses, lilies, anemones, pansies, larkspur, borage and love-in-a-mist in a wicker basket and an oriental lacquer basket, all upon a table-top with cabbage white and red admiral butterflies and a dragonfly, oil on oak panel, 95.7 x 119.7 cm.; 37⅝ x 47⅛ in. Lot sold: 882,000 GBP (Estimate: 400,000 - 600,000 GBP). © 2022 Sotheby's.
Property from the Grasset Collection.
Provenance: Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Gentleman'), London, Christie's, 21 April 1989, lot 14, for £480,000;
Where acquired by Mrs Barbara Piasecka Johnson (1937–2013), Princeton, New Jersey;
By whom sold, London, Sotheby's, 5 July 2006, lot 31, where offered (est. £600,000-800,000);
Acquired privately immediately thereafter for the Grasset Collection.
Literature: S. Segal, Flowers and Nature: Netherlandish flower painting of four centuries, exh. cat., The Hague 1990, pp. 182–83, reproduced in colour p. 83, plate 30, and p. 182, fig. 30;
F.G. Meijer, A Dictionary of Dutch and Flemish Still-life painters working in oils 1525–1725, Leiden 2003, p. 32;
F.G. Meijer, Brueghel to Canaletto, European Masterpieces from the Grasset Collection, exh. cat., San Diego 2016, p. 9, no. 3, reproduced in colour;
S. Thomas, A Feast for the Eyes, European Masterpieces from the Grasset Collection, exh. cat., Saint Petersburg, Florida 2019, pp. 26 and 95, no. 7, reproduced in colour;
S. Segal and K. Alen, Dutch and Flemish Flower Pieces: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints up to the Nineteenth Century, Leiden and Boston 2020, vol. 1, p. 239, n. 212;
To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné by Dr Klara Alen, Osias Beert. Pioneer of the Antwerp laid table and flower still life.
Exhibited: Osaka, Nabio Museum of Art, Tokyo, and Station Gallery, Sydney Art Gallery of New South Wales, Flowers and Nature: Netherlandish Flower painting of four centuries, 4 September - 28 October 1990, no. 30;
San Diego, The San Diego Museum of Art, Brueghel to Canaletto, European Masterpieces from the Grasset Collection, 2 April – 2 August 2016, no. 3;
San Diego, The San Diego Museum of Art, on loan 2016 – 2019 (when part of the Genre & Myth display, 2017 – 2019);
Saint Petersburg, Florida, Museum of Fine Arts, A Feast for the Eyes, European Masterpieces from the Grasset Collection, 23 March – 2 September 2019, no. 7.
Note: Osias Beert was one of the pioneering painters of still lifes in the Netherlands during the first two decades of the seventeenth century, working in Antwerp, where the development of the subject as an independent genre at this time mainly occurred. Beert is thought to have lived in Antwerp throughout his career, having registered as a pupil of the obscure history and genre painter, Andries van Baesrode, in the city’s painters’ guild in 1596, and subsequently enrolled as a master there in 1602. He is also recorded as a cork merchant, and a member of the chamber of rhetoric: ‘de Olijftak’ (‘olive branch’). Though few other details of Beert’s life are known, his large number of pupils – including Frans Ykens – and his collaboration with Rubens, testify to the esteem in which he was held during his own lifetime.
The present painting is by far the largest and most elaborate of the few known complex still lifes produced by Beert, and may be regarded not only as one of the artist’s masterpieces but as one of the grandest and most successful works in the early history of the genre. It exemplifies and sets the benchmark for the new type of composition that Beert was instrumental in developing, in which multiple combinations of rare and beautiful flowers are displayed in a number of expensive and luxurious vessels. Other examples include the Still life with three vases of flowers, sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 18 May 2006, lot 99 (for $660,000) (fig. 1),1 and some more simplified designs, such as the Still life with flowers in a Chinese lacquer basket and a glass vase, most recently sold at Sotheby’s, London, 6 July 2022, lot 2.2
Fig. 1 Osias Beert the Elder, Still life with three vases of flowers. Sold for $660,000 at Sotheby’s, New York, 18 May 2006, lot 99. © 2022 Sotheby's.
Osias Beert the Elder, Still life with flowers in a Chinese lacquer basket and a glass vase, oil on oak panel, with a prepared reverse, 53.3 x 74.9 cm. sold at Sotheby’s, London, 6 July 2022, lot 2. © 2022 Sotheby's.
On the left is a German stoneware jug, on the right is a globular, translucent glass vase, and in the centre are an open wicker basket and behind it a rare and costly oriental lacquer basket, which may well – along with the jug – have belonged to Beert himself, since they recur in others of his works, including the Still life with roses in an oriental lacquer basket offered in this sale. These various containers, however, themselves depicted with astonishing and exquisite attention to the effect of light on their different surfaces, are somewhat subordinate to the riot of colours and forms, achieved through the meticulous application of glazes, found in no less than 96 sorts of flowers (and many more in number) placed within them. The artist made careful studies of individual flowers as they bloomed, which he was then able to combine into fanciful bouquets that in reality would never have co-existed. Some, such as the anemones and fritillaries, were imported rarities, but they are found beside several types of simple garden flowers. Indeed, the remarkable array of blooms in the baskets give the appearance of having just been picked and collected there, as if awaiting more formal arrangement, as in the vessels on either side.
Overall naturalism is surrendered in favour of the harmonious and balanced juxtapositions of the unique shapes and patterns of each flower – not least in the bouquet of tulips and a single rose on the left, which surely comprises too many stems to fit into such a vessel. Beert’s concern for realism or perspective was secondary to his desire to present the blooms to their best effect. As surprising as it may seem today, at the time of Tulipmania in The Netherlands, Beert’s renditions of many of these flowers would actually have cost less than the blooms themselves, and the perennial nature of the painted forms, along with their connotations of luxury and prestige, meant that such works were highly desirable to contemporary collectors, who undoubtedly also accorded meaning to the inherent transiency of the subject matter, such as the fallen petals and worm-eaten rose leaves, and their analogy with the temporality of human existence.
Establishing any sort of chronology in Beert’s œuvre is almost impossible since none of his paintings is dated (although as many as four are on copper plates with the date marks of 1607, 1608 and 1609), and very few are signed or monogrammed; his extant corpus numbers around fifty firmly attributed paintings, around half of which depict food and fruits, and the other half flowers. In 1989 the late Dr Ingvar Bergström dated this painting to 1622, but more recently Dr Fred G. Meijer has suggested a slightly earlier date between 1615 and the early 1620s, comparing the flowers here to those contributed by Beert to Rubens' painting of Pausias and Glycera, dated to 1612–15, in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota (fig. 2).3 Dr Meijer also considers these larger works dedicated entirely to flowers to date from later in Beert’s career, as opposed to the smaller bouquets which appear more incidentally in earlier images of laden tables. In any case, the sophisticated spatial coherence of this complex design speaks to a maturity that indisputably tallies with the last decade of Beert’s career.
Fig. 2 Peter Paul Rubens and Osias Beert the Elder, Pausias and Glycera, circa 1612-15. oil on canvas, 234.6 x 204.5 cm. John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota © John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota.
3 Inv. no. SN219: https://emuseum.ringling.org/emuseum/objects/19814/pausias-and-glycera
Sotheby's. Old Masters Evening Auction, London, 7 December 2022