Skip to main content

Flowers in a crystal vase

Nicolas Baudesson

(1611 - 1680) | 907.1.61

Date : Circa 1650 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Nicolas Baudesson lived long enough to see two generations of flower painters in France: the generation whose still lifes were inspired by Flemish painting and who sought to imitate nature closely (such as David de Heem), and the next generation, who seem to have been influenced by the more theatrical Italian style as well. (The chief representative in France of this decorative style was Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer).

The painting in the Musée de Rouen is a fine example of this art of transition in France around 1650. During this time, Baudesson was in Italy, where he remained for nearly twenty-five years until 1666. So he might have painted this picture on his return to France.

There is a fine sense of staging in the search for balance in the colours, with their subtly mingled shades of pink and blue, in the play on the curves of the gracefully emerging stems, and in the handsome crystal vase, depicted in a sober but elegant manner. The somewhat dark colours and background echo the contemporary Italian style of painting flowers, as in the works of Porporo.

That said, there are still signs of the unassuming art that characterised French still life painting in the first half of the 17th century. The balanced, sparse arrangement of the flowers and the deliberate lack of virtuosity in the representation and sobriety of the setting are all typical of the French school during the 1630s and 1640s, most notably in the work of Jacques Linard. There is also evidence of the Flemish influence in the symbolic language, which became more conventional when flower painting became solely decorative during the second half of the 17th century. The flowers composing this bouquet could be symbolic references to the game of love: the joy of love (yellow lily and white peony), the promise of happiness (pink dahlia), the fear of being unloved (forget-me-not), and the frivolity of a love affair (variegated carnation). Or it could be a vanitas painting, whose full significance is found in this carnation dominating the centre of the composition.