Greatly appreciated at the Spanish court, still life flower painting as a genre was at its height in 17th-century Europe, a fact well attested by the sheer abundance and quality of works on the theme. Perhaps the finest and certainly the best known of all the great Spanish still life artists was Madrid-born Juan de Arellano, who from 1645 onwards spent virtually all his time and remarkable talent working in the genre. Arellano had previously concentrated on religious themes and painting the human figure, neither of which suited his particular gifts.
In this Still life with flowers, from the Santander Collection, Arellano employed what was for him an innovative composition, one that differed from his usual practice of portraying a single bouquet of flowers. Here he shows three, arranged in a deftly balanced triangle, along the lines of the successful models introduced by Flemish artists such as Daniel Seghers. A small wicker basket full of flowers features in the lower-centre section of the work. Placed on the jutting part of a stone wall, which acts as a pedestal, the basket seems to loom out from the painting towards the spectators. Another two bouquets hang from a sort of cornice in grisaille adorned with two volutes and a central venera shell, architectural features Arellano also included in other works. Flowers shown include roses, streaked tulips, narcissi, Guelder roses, irises, peonies, carnations, anemones and columbines. Several butterflies are also portrayed. The dark background and the powerful light, shining from a source above the bouquets, make the flowers stand out strongly.
Signed at the bottom, the painting is generally paired with another, very similar work of identical measurements called Vase and Garlands. According to Alfonso Pérez Sánchez, who brought them together in the Arellano exhibition he organized in Madrid in 1998, the sheer "opulence and sensuality" of the two works give them a place amongst the artist's "richest and most attractive" works. Describing them as striking "a perfect unity of rhythm and colour", Pérez Sánchez dates the two paintings to 1650-1660, when the artist was at a "particularly fortunate" stage of his career. Arellano thus produced them at least a decade before creating another extraordinary work, the Small Basket of Flowers, dated 1671, now in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum collection. The later painting is also on display here in the gallery, thus giving visitors the opportunity to compare the style of Spain's leading Golden Age painter of flowers in two different phases of his development as an artist.
Once in the Marquis of Moret's collection, Still life with Flowers and its partner both featured in an exhibition entitled Flower vase and still life held in Madrid in 1935.
Juan de Arellano (Santorcaz, Madrid, 1614-Madrid, 1676)
Still life with flowers, c. 1650-1660
Oil on canvas, 122 x 101 cm
Santander Collection, Madrid