Dutch and Flemish artists took remarkable delight in creating images of the natural world. Gardening and the breeding of beautiful hybrids satisfied their interest in art and in science. The flower paintings of Jan de Heem celebrate the beauty of flora while at the same time exemplify the concept of “art is long, life is short” embodied in 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings. Depictions of striking and exotic flowers also bared their far-flung explorations and their expertise in botany.
Thirty-one species of plants are portrayed in De Heem’s Vase of Flowers. Poppies, tulips, roses, wheat, and peas reach out in dynamic rhythms, while insects crawl and flutter about the arrangement and glass vase. Reflected in the vase, is the light streaming through De Heem’s studio window. Interestingly, such a composition could not have existed naturally, as his choice of flowers and insects did not flourish and live during the same seasons of the year.
Knox Martin pays reverence to De Heem's Vase with his own monumental canvas, Homage to Jan de Heem. Martin’s use of color and scale is captivating and magical. At nearly three times the size of De Heem’s still life, Martin’s composition is even more fantastical because he doesn’t confine it within the boundaries of the canvas itself. His elements stretch far beyond the borders in such an extraordinary way that you feel like it goes further than your peripheral vision could allow, making it up-close and personal.
Martin mirrors the natural components in De Heem’s work, but with his own exceptional flair. He obliterates the black background and traditional dark colors of Dutch paintings of that time period, and makes it fresh and new with his bright colors and large scale. Martin used dazzling hues of red, blue, purple, pink, green, yellow, and black that are wonderfully dream-like, transporting you to a land filled with enchantment.
Although Martin stayed true to many of the elements in the earlier painting, including the reflection of the window in the vase, he puts his own mark on this tribute piece by placing a lobster in the lower left corner. I’ve been privileged to not only see De Heem’s original painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, but honored to have seen Martin’s stunning work in his studio not long after its completion—a witness to art history.
Homage to Jan de Heem
Acrylic on linen | 80 in. x 66 in.
©Knox Martin/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
|Vase of Flowers | c. 1660|
Jan de Heem
Oil on canvas | 27 3/8 in. x 22 1/4 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washingt2on