Cornelis van Spaendonck, Still Life of Flowers, 1793. Oil on canvas.
Cornelis van Spaendonck was born in the Dutch city of Tilburg, but by the age of seventeen he had followed his older brother Gerardus, also a gifted still life artist, to Paris, where they both enjoyed long and successful careers. Cornelis, for example, was director of the great Sèvres porcelain works.
Although Spaendonck’s work is removed in time by more than a century from the height of flower painting initiated by painters like Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder and Roelant Saverij during the so-called golden age, it shares with the work of these early artists a great technical virtuosity, finish, and sensitivity to lighting in its depiction of a lush cornucopia of flowers that spill over the canvas. Given the later date of Spaendonck’s work, it is generally agreed among scholars that less meaning should be read into the presence and placement of individual flowers, and felt that viewers should merely experience the enjoyment of nature’s generosity and the artist’s skill. Still, it does not seem possible to entirely discount the symbolism of sleep, death, and rebirth in the respective presentation of poppies, lilacs, and morning glories here; along with these, the mindfulness urged by the forget-me-nots at the very center of the composition may assert a commemorative function for this picture. Or, perhaps Spaendonck intended a clever to the tale of the goddess Demeter from classical mythology (whose flower is the poppy) whose loss of her daughter Persephone to Hades, lord of the underworld, for half of each year, was the ancient explanation for the cyclical death and renewal of the natural world in the four seasons.
via the Johnson Museum of Art