Oil on canvas
Image size: 23 1/4 x 19 1/2 inches (59 x 50 cm)
Dutch Ripple frame (Image below)
Private Collection, London
We are grateful to Dr. Marianne Berardi for the authentication of this work.
Here a glass vase containing an exuberant display of flowers stands on a stone ledge. The asymmetrical arrangement of the flowers fills most of the canvas and the vibrant bouquet contains peonies, African marigold, bearded iris and a poppy set amidst a perfusion of twisting leaves and stems. Poppies were one of Verelst’s favourite flowers and were commonly featured in his still life’s.
This painting shows a superb understanding of light and colour that is consistent with Verelst’s other works. Indeed, the strong contrast between the brightly lit, the colourful blossoms and the surrounding darkness lends to the flowers and foliage a hyper realistic quality and a strong sense of three-dimensionality.
Although he painted capable portraits, it was Verelst’s skill as a flower painter that earned him enormous celebrity, notwithstanding his notorious conceit. His exquisite ability to render texture, particularly crinkly browning rose leaves and pulpy poppy leaves (seen in the present work), is a distinctive feature of his flower pieces. Additionally, he displayed a brilliant knack for chiaroscuro which he used to huge dramatic advantage, spotlighting as he does in the present bouquet, the heads of the large flowers then allowing the areas around them to fall into velvety shadow. The effect he achieved created images of richness, mystery, hushed splendour.
Verelst was born in The Hague in 1644 and came from a family of painters. His brothers Johannes and Herman also became painters and, like Simon, were trained by their father.
In 1663 Simon became a member of the Confrérie Pictura, the painter’s association in The Hague, and soon afterwards moved to nearby Vooburg with his brother Herman, who also painted flowers. In 1668 Simon he moved to London where the Duke of Buckingham became his principle patron and on 11 April 1669 he met with Samuel Pepys. He was enormously successful in London and his elegant portraits became popular for a time during the 1670s among court circles. He painted this portrait of Prince Rupert, son of Frederick V, Count Palatine and Elizabeth Stuart. King Charles II owned six of his paintings.
In 1709, according to Weyerman, he lived down the Strand in London with the art dealer William Lovejoy, who had him locked up for his bouts of unbridled aggression.
Simon Verelst was born in The Hague in 1644 as the son of the genre painter Pieter Verelst (c.1618–c.1678), who also produced a few still-lifes, and taught Simon the art of painting; Simon’s brother, Herman, also became a painter. In 1663 Simon moved to nearby Voorburg, and in that year also became a member of the painters’ society Confrerie Pictura. In 1668 or 1669 he travelled to London, where he established a reputation as a brilliant flower painter. He painted portraits, too, and was honoured by different writers of the time. After he had invited Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), Chief Secretary to the Admiralty of England and Member of Parliament, to his studio in 1669, the naval administrator expressed his great admiration for a flower piece in his famous diary, “a Dutchman newly come over, one Everelst, who took us to his lodgings close by and did show us a little flower-pott of his doing, the finest thing that ever I think I saw in my life – the drops of Dew hanging on the leaves, so as I was forced again and again to put my finger to it to feel whether my eyes were deceived or no. He doth ask £70 for it; I had the vanity to bid him £20 – but a better picture I never saw in my whole life, and it is worth going twenty miles to see.”
Verelst was extremely popular with the English aristocracy. King George II possessed no less than six flower pieces and three portraits by Verelst. The painter was honoured in Holland, too, during his lifetime. In 1707, Gerard de Lairesse considered him the best flower painter ever, while Jacob Campo Weyerman also recorded his admiration for Verelst. According to the latter biographer, his success went to his head, and in his arrogance Verelst called himself ‘den God der bloemen, en den Koning der Konterfyters’ (‘the God of the flowers, and the King of the painters’), and saw himself as equal to Charles II. In 1680 he went to Paris, where he worked for Louis Michiel.
Verelst primarily painted flower pieces, but also produced some still-lifes with fruit and birds, and a number of portraits. He generally did not sign or date his works. His flower bouquets are usually quite open and loosely arranged, with plenty of space between the stems and flowers. They are usually also asymmetrical, with a diagonal central axis, and reveal a certain degree of tonality., with bright and translucent colours.
Notable is the almost complete absence of insects and other small creatures, except for the occasional presence of butterflies. In leaves and other areas Verelst generally used a bright green varnish, applied on top of a yellow-grey base layer – the fragility of this upper glaze meant that they were injudiciously removed during later restorations more often than not.
Unfortunately, many of his paintings are a shadow of what they had been originally because they suffered enormously from over cleaning. He made extensive used of coloured varnishes, especially in the leaves, and once those varnishes are stripped away, they leave ghosts of their former jewel-like saturation.
During the early 18th-century Verelst’s skills were celebrated in print by biographers including Gerard de Lairesse and Jacob Campo Weyerman, signaling him out as a painter in a thousand, and one of the most distinguished of all Dutch flower painters.
Unfortunately, Verelst’s period of magnificent production in England lasted only about 15 years. It seems that during the 1680s he underwent a psychotic breakdown of some kind, and that although he managed to recover and continue painting, his later works are but a shadow of his earlier achievement.
Flower pieces by Verelst are preserved in many of the world’s leading museums and private collections, including the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the Herzog Anton-Ulrich Museum in Braunschweig, the Szépmüvészeti Museum in Budapest, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, Cherbourg, Reims, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Hague-Bredius, Brunswick, Pommersfelden, numerous National Trust properties and the National Museum in Stockholm.