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Feel the moody florals in this Dutch Golden Age still life

Flowers in a Glass Bowl by Rachel Ruysch
10"x8" ($24) | 14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 30"x24" ($800)

Hot tea, heavy curtains, delicate lace. You might think a floral still life belongs in that sorta ambiance, but our new Vintage Edition isn’t your average flower arrangement: Rachel Ruysch’s Flowers in a Glass Bowl is the expressive, unruly, rococo counterpoint to precious bloom placement and porcelain vases.

The daughter of a renowned scientist and botanist, Ruysch had access to all kinds of plant samples, perfect for drawing practice. She also came of age in Amsterdam shortly after the end of tulip mania, at a time when the Dutch were setting the pace in the world of scientific illustration and a growing merchant class was beginning to appreciate botanics for their beauty alone. It’s no surprise that flowers ended up a lifelong focal point for the artist.

Ruysch often painted inky backgrounds behind her bright subjects, which was very much la mode in still lifes of the second half of the 17th century. Her contemporaries tended toward tightly-focused floral still lifes, with a clear outline of the entire bouquet and vessel, but Ruysch’s work distinguished itself by running marvelously more amok. Her lavish, exuberant bouquets fill the frame, woven through with vines, insects, shells and other natural curiosities. Asymmetry, disorderly stems and drooping blooms all play into the delightfully chaotic displays. She sharpened this signature style during an early apprenticeship at age 15 with painter Willem van Aelst, who taught her how to arrange bouquets to appear more wild and less formal. 

Ruysch’s paintings have an exhilarating sense of spontaneity about them, but today’s edition (like her other work) is actually a carefully considered composition, which makes that wild vibe all the more impressive. The dizzying variety of blossoms featured in Flowers in a Glass Bowl are native to different areas all around the globe, and bloom at different times of the year. Ipso facto, it’s highly likely they never met in real life. Ruysch probably studied the flowers in this piece — and many of her other still lifes — individually, referring to her sketches when she began painting so she could combine all sorts of unlikely bedfellows into one lush arrangement. And though the appearance of a few slumped, fading flowers smacks of a familiarly realistic mortality, these were examined elements too. Flowers in a Glass Bowl is a fantasy flower arrangement with an enigmatically earthy appeal.

Ruysch was also known for her meticulous mastery of her subject matter (an exactitude perhaps inspired by her scientist father), polished over many years of dedicated practice. Her work was highly detail-oriented, every petal painstakingly painted with her precise brushwork. She was also prolificRuysch had an extensive, successful painting career that spanned over six decades, and she was one of the best-documented female painters of the Dutch Golden Age. At her peak, Ruysch was so popular that she was able to fetch a price double that of Rembrandt (no easy feat, given the general disenfranchisement of her gender).

Sadly, she’s less established in the art history canon than one might expect. Maybe because of her chosen subject matter. Certainly because of sexism. Whatever the case, we’re all the more excited to edition her incredible artwork. So go ahead — get down on the perennial power of this print in bloom on your walls year round, and send a reverential nod to the still life queen of the 17th century at the same time.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200