La Douarière van Lith de Jeude, Antwerp (according to a note in the archive of Sam Segal)
With Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam (ditto as above)
Private collection B. H. M. Lips, Dordrecht, 1955 (ditto as above)
With Alfred Brod Gallery, London, 1956
Anon. sale, Heyse, Ghent, 13 May 1963, lot. 349, reproduced
Where purchased by John Mitchell, London
Private collection, U.K., 1976 to 2016
Advertisement in Weltkunst, 26 (1956), p. 8.
John Mitchell & Sons, London, The Inspiration of Nature, 1970, p. 48-49, illustrated.
The Jesuit brother Daniel Seghers was one of the most remarkable flower painters of the seventeenth century. Already famous in his lifetime, his paintings were highly sought after in elite circles. His works were, however, rarely offered for sale, but were presented by the Jesuits as diplomatic gifts to the rulers of Europe, or used to decorate their churches and monastic houses. In exchange for his paintings, the artist was sometimes rewarded with lavish presents, for example, in 1645, he received a gold palette with six gold brushes and a gold mahlstick from the Dutch Stadholder Frederik Hendrik. He was praised by his contemporaries in prose and verse, and his studio was visited by, among others, the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand, the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and the future Charles II of England.
The larger part of Seghers’s oeuvre is devoted to flower garlands encircling cartouches with a central image executed by another painter: these mostly depict devotional subjects, but portraits and mythological scenes are also known. Among the many painters who collaborated with Seghers are Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, Hendrick van Balen, Erasmus Quellinus II, Simon de Vos, Abraham van Diepenbeeck and Cornelis Schut. Much rarer are his ‘pure’ still lifes of festoons of flowers or bouquets in a vase. Many of his signed paintings, including the present one, are inscribed ‘Soc[ieta]tis Jesu’, signifying his allegiance to the Jesuit Order.
This impeccably preserved painting is a fine example of Seghers’s refined and supremely elegant floral still lifes. Executed on a large copper panel, it depicts a simple glass vase, filled with spring and early summer flowers, standing on a wooden ledge. As was typical for the artist, the arrangement is composed of relatively few blossoms. At the top is a red and white striped tulip, of a type that was highly prized by horticulturalists and bulb collectors of the day. Below it appear narcissi and pink and white roses, some of which are fully open, while others are still in bud. A spray of white jasmine, a few rose leaves and smaller flowers complete the bouquet. A Large White butterfly has alighted on the tulip: resting on the ledge to the left of the vase is a gecko and to the right a Tiger moth. The flowers, painted with a smooth, liquid touch, in the artist’s distinctive palette of clear pink, carmine, yellow, white and blue, emerge brightly from the impenetrably dark background. Light entering through the studio window is reflected in the vase. The smooth surface of the copper, a favourite support of the artist, contributes to the luminous effect. The simplicity of the composition strikes a surprisingly modern note.
The earliest dated examples of floral still lifes of this type are from 1635. For example, his Flowers in a Vase in the Toledo Museum of Art (i). More comparable with the present painting, though larger in size and more elaborate in composition, is Bouquet in a glass Vase, dated 1643, formerly in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden (ii).
We are unusually well informed about the life and work of Daniel Seghers because the artist himself produced an autobiographical statement in January 1615 at the time of his admission to the Jesuit order. According to this document, Seghers was born in Antwerp on 3 December 1590, the son of the silk merchant Pieter Seghers and Marguerite van Gheel. Following the elder Seghers’s death in about 1601, his widow converted to Calvinism and moved with her son to the Northern Netherlands, probably to Utrecht. The name of Daniel’s first teacher is not known, but he apparently began his study of painting about 1605. The family returned to Antwerp in 1609 or 1610, where Daniel completed his training under Jan Brueghel the Elder, before becoming a member of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1611. Daniel re-converted to Catholicism and, in 1614, he entered the Jesuit Order in Mechelen. He continued to paint after joining the Jesuits. From 1617 to 1621 he lived in Antwerp, and then from 1621 to 1625 he was in Brussels. After taking his final vows in July 1625, he spent two years in Rome, where he occupied himself painting flower garlands for ecclesiastical patrons. In 1627, he returned to the Jesuit house in Antwerp, where he lived for the rest of his life. Towards the end of his life he made a record of his work in the “Catalogue of Flower Pieces which I have painted with my own hand, and for whom” in which 249 paintings were listediii. Unfortunately, in most cases the descriptions are too generic to enable many to be identified with any certainty. After a prolonged illness, Seghers died in Antwerp on 2 November 1661. His only documented pupil was the flower painter Jan Philips van Thielen.
i Daniel Seghers, Flowers in a Vase, 1635, on panel, 81.2 x 51.7 cm, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio, inv. no. 53.85.
ii Daniel Seghers, Bouquet in a glass Vase, 1643, on copper, 85.5 x 64.5 cm, formerly Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, no. 1201 (destroyed in the war).
iii “Cataloge van de Bloemstukken, die ik selfs met mijn hand heb geschildert en voor wie”. Published by W. Couvreur, ‘Daniel Seghers’ inventaris van door hem geschilderde bloemstukken’, in Gentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis den de Oudheidkunde, xx, 1967, pp. 87-158.