A Still Life of Flowers in an ornate Vase
Signed and dated upper left: N. Lachtropius / Ano 1668
Oil on canvas, 26¼ x 20⅞ ins. (66.7 x 52.9 cm)
With Xaver Scheidwimmer, Munich, 2008, from who acquired by the present owner
Private collection, Belgium, 2008-2018
This splendid flower piece is a fine example of the work of the rare still-life painter Nicolaes Lachtropius. It depicts an exuberant bouquet of flowers displayed in a silver-gilt vase, standing on a marble table. The foot of the vase anchors a silver-and-gold fringed, plum-coloured velvet cloth, which has been draped over the tabletop. Under strong lighting, the brightly coloured blooms emerge from the profoundly dark background, including pink roses, an African marigold, an iris, a striped tulip, a stem of sweet William, a snowball (Viburnum opulus roseum) and a red opium poppy. The arrangement is composed along asymmetrical lines, running from the pink rosebud at the lower left and sweeping upwards to the huge brilliant red poppy at the upper right. The magisterial blue iris provides an upright accent that counterbalances the whole. A dragonfly, a snail and a beetle enliven the flora.
Despite his obvious accomplishments, surprisingly few details survive regarding the life of Nicolaes Lachtropius. We do not know whence he hailed, or with whom he trained, but his presence in Amsterdam is documented from 1656 to around 1668. His small surviving oeuvre consists of flower pieces, which are strongly indebted to those of Willem van Aelst (1626-1683), and forest-floor still lifes inspired by those of Otto Marseus van Schrieck (1619/20-78).
Lachtropius appeared on the scene in Amsterdam at just about the same time that Willem van Aelst arrived in the city. Van Aelst had recently returned from ten years abroad in France and Italy, where he had worked in Florence at the court of Ferdinand II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, but instead of settling in his native Delft, he chose to try his luck in Amsterdam. No doubt both painters, as well as the many others who relocated to Amsterdam around this time, were drawn to the city for the same reasons. The end of hostilities with Spain and the signing of the Treaty of Münster in 1648 had ushered in a period of peace and unprecedented prosperity for Amsterdam, leading to a huge expansion in the population and a booming economy. The city’s merchants became rich on overseas trade, while a programme of building transformed the appearance of the metropolis. Three new canals were constructed on the west side of the town – the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht – creating the famous concentric rings of canals, along which wealthy burghers and merchants built themselves stately canal houses, while handsome new churches, and public buildings sprang up around the city. Correspondingly, there was a strong demand for all kinds of luxury goods, especially fine furnishings, elegant decorative arts and paintings.
During the first half of the seventeenth century, Amsterdam played a relatively modest role in still-life painting, but that all changed after mid-century with the arrival of a clutch of extremely talented still-life painters, who introduced a range of new styles and subject matter. Van Aelst was one such painter, who soon found success with the elegant and courtly style of still life that he had developed during his time in Florence. He painted mostly still lifes with hunting equipment and dead game, and flower paintings, in a smooth and refined manner. He also made an important contribution to the art of flower painting with his innovative asymmetrical schemes, thereby breaking with tradition. He soon attracted a following not only among wealthy art collectors, but also among a circle of artists upon whom he exerted a powerful influence. His emulators included his famous pupil Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), who went on to have a brilliant career of her own, Simon Pietersz. Verelst (1644-1721), Hendrick de Fromantiou (1633/34 – 1694), and Nicolaes Lachtropius, who aspired to the same elegant and dynamic effects as his mentor, often modelling his compositions and even his choice of flowers directly on van Aelst’s work. In the present case, Lachtropius based his boldly asymmetrical composition closely on van Aelst’s Still Life of Flowers in a silver Vase, dated 1663, in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (i), or possibly on a variant of this composition, also dated 1663, in the Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis, The Hague (ii). The motif of the large red poppy seen here, which is directly appropriated from van Aelst, is a key element in several flower pieces by Lachtropius. For example, a very similar composition painted the year before ours, in the Rijksmuseum (iii).
By 1673, we find Lachtropius residing in Alphen aan de Rijn, a small town between Leiden and Utrecht. His move from Amsterdam was probably prompted by the events of the previous year, for in 1672, the French had invaded the Dutch Republic and the Third Anglo-Dutch War broke out. The Rampjaar, or year of disaster, as it was called, brought the Dutch economy to its knees, the art market collapsed, and many artists experienced hardship. A number left the capital and some, like the famous father and son team of marine painters, Willem van de Velde I and II, even emigrated abroad in search of work. Lachtropius evidently continued painting flowers in a very similar vein, as a small number of dated examples attest, but he also turned his hand to painting the decorations on a coach.
Only fragments of the life story of Nicolaes Lachtropius are documented. Neither the date nor the place of his birth are known, but he is recorded in Amsterdam from 1656 to at least 1668. His name appears in some Leiden documents of 1673, when he served as a witness, but he was not necessarily a resident there. From about 1673 to 1689, he is documented as living in Alphen aan den Rijn, a town between Leiden and Utrecht, where he painted flowers and plant still lifes, as well as the decorations on a coach. In January 1690, he is mentioned in The Hague as a claimant, but was probably not living there. He is last recorded as a merchant at Alphen in 1700.
active in Amsterdam 1656 - in or after 1700 Alphen ann den Rijn
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