March News from Susan McCraith

Just a pretty picture?

This month I look at floral still life and wonder if there is more to it than just a pretty painting of a vase of flowers…





In this painting by Jacob van Walscapelle dated around 1670, the flowers are painted in exquisite detail and if you look closely there is an array of wildlife in there too, including a caterpillar suspended on a thread of silk, a butterfly and a snail. This was not just a vase of flowers that the artist chose to paint one day, everything had a symbolic meaning, lilies for purity, irises and roses represented the Virgin, caterpillars and butterflies the Resurrection. In fact these flowers weren’t even in season at the same time, there are spring tulips, summer strawberries and autumn blackberries. (Fun fact: Snails were a symbol of the Virgin Birth as at that time people thought they reproduced asexually.)


The paintings were symbols of nobility and status. In the 1600s there was a growing interest in botany and horticulture and a booming trade in exotic plants, such as the tulips that were brought over from Turkey and traded at higher prices than gold. Many people lost their livelihoods when the tulip-mania bubble burst in 1637 and floral paintings after that date sometimes include a withered flower here and there pointing to the transcience of life.


I particularly liked the rose/peony with the ladybird in the top left. It is slightly set back into shadow but I decided to see if I could practise the Flemish technique by copying it.



On the Easel…



The Flemish technique consists of doing a monochrome underpainting and then glazing colours in successive layers on top. Colours are optically mixed so you would paint a layer of blue then yellow to achieve green. This technique adds great depth and colours can have a transparent jewel-like quality. Of course I don’t know how van Walscapelle achieved that pinky purple colour but I decided to start my first glaze with ultramarine blue followed by alizarin crimson and iterations thereof. My canvas is 15cm square so not far off the original scale. It’s not an exact copy, I think the correct term is ‘After Jacob van Walscapelle’ but I call this one of my Mini Masters. The oil paint is currently drying (a long oxidative process) and after varnishing it will go on the website. When the paint is drier I’ll take some photos and make up some prints.







Thank you friends for subscribing to my newsletter and for reading this far. I hope this wasn’t too content heavy. Any suggestions, comments, feedback on the newsletter, website or social media would be gratefully received.




Back to blog