Abraham Mignon - Flowers with insects in a glass vase on a stone ledge

Abraham Mignon

Flowers with insects in a glass vase on a stone ledge

Oil on canvas: 29(h) x 23.5(w) in /

73.7(h) x 59.7(w) cm

Signed lower right: A. Mignon fec.

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BX 132



Frankfurt 1640 – 1679 Utrecht


Still life of poppies, roses, a peony, tulips, an iris, morning glory and other flowers in a glass vase on a stone ledge, with an Emperor moth (Saturnia pavonia) and a snail


Signed lower right: A. Mignon fec.

Oil on canvas: 29 x 23 ½ in / 73.7 x 59.7 cm

Frame size: 38 x 32 ½ in / 96.5 x 82.6 cm

In a polished seventeenth century Dutch style black frame


Painted circa 1670



Count Joachim Godske Moltke (1746-1818), Bregentved, Zealand;

by descent to his grandson Frederik Christian Moltke (1854-1936), Bregentved, Zealand;

his sale, Winkel & Magnussen, Copenhagen, 2nd June 1931, lot 87 (size given as 93 x 70 cm) Mrs Lilian von Kaufman, Skolskor;

Christie’s London, 14th May 1965, lot 132, illus. (size given as 35 x 26 ½ in; 4,500 gns. to Terry-Engell); Terry-Engell-Gallery, London;

from whom acquired by Herman Shickman



Delft, Antiekbeurs, 1966, no.15 New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999-2018, on loan



NH Weinwich, Udførlig raisoneret Fortegnelse over en Samling Malerier i Kiøbenhavn, tilhørende Hs. Excellence Geheime-Conferentsraad Greve J.G. Moltke, Copenhagen 1818, no.57 (size given as 35 ¼ x 26 ¼ in) Catalogue des tableaux de la collection du comte de Moltke, Copenhagen 1894, p.43, no.81 (size given as 35 ½ x 26 ½ in) P Gammelbo, Dutch Still-Life Painting from the 16th to the 18th Centuries in Danish Collections, Leigh-on-Sea 1960, p.110, no.156, illus. (size given as 93 x 70 cm) M Kraemer-Noble, Abraham Mignon, Leigh-on-Sea 1973, p.47, no.B106 (size given as 89 x 67.5 cm)

M Kraemer-Noble, Abraham Mignon, 1640-1679, Petersberg 2007, pp.214-5, no.83, illus. in colour



Abraham Mignon was a pupil of Jacob Marrel (1614-1681) in Frankfurt. He worked in the studio of Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606-1683/4) in Utrecht from circa 1664, taking over the studio when the great master departed for Antwerp in 1672. Mignon imbibed from de Heem dramatic lighting, an exquisite delineation of the shapes, colours and textures of flowers, and a vibrant sense of composition which gives each element in nature its due weight in the picture.


Mignon’s mature career lasted only fifteen years – he died aged thirty-nine in 1679 – and his oeuvre is comparatively difficult to date. HHHHowever, the balance and poise of this still life, its combination of grandeur and delicacy, suggests that it was made around 1670, when the artist was at the height of his powers. As so often with Mignon, the composition spirals round a central white rose. The artist mixes showy garden flowers, such as the peony and three types of roses, with wild flora like the grass and chervil, which emerge, exquisitely delineated, from the dark background at the top of the painting.


Mignon revels in the complex, ragged petals and vivid scarlet-and-white of the oriental poppy which crowns the composition. It is contrasted with the comparative simplicity of the field poppies at the foot. They are shown in three stages: as a tight bud, unfurling and in glorious, silky maturity, introducing the idea of time passing. As with many of de Heem’s paintings, warm colours – in the roses, peony, marigold and tulips – predominate. The vivid reds are made all the more glowing by the contrasting bright blue of the morning glory (a plant brought from America) and the iris. The forceful graphic quality of the work is underlined by Mignon’s delineation of the flower stalks and particularly by the wheat, which snakes down through the centre of the composition like a lightening bolt. The insects scattered across the bouquet, including a caterpillar, a butterfly and the splendid Emperor moth clinging to the corn stalk, further reflect Mignon’s powers of observation and skill with trompe l’oeil.


Abraham Mignon was a devout man, a deacon in the French Reformed church in Utrecht, but the Christian symbolism in this flowerpiece is not overt. Ears of wheat can stand for the Resurrection, the caterpillars and butterfly for the transformation of the soul. As with many still lifes of this period, the Four Elements are present: Earth (the stone niche, flowers and wheat are products of the earth); Fire (the glass vase, blown by fire); Water (in the vase and the exquisitely painted dew-drops) and Air (the insects), together representing God’s Creation. Mignon presents the variety of nature with breathtaking illusionism that still delights us three hundred and fifty years later.


Mignon’s flowerpieces were much in demand in his lifetime and entered aristocratic and royal collections throughout the eighteenth century. The Elector of Saxony owned thirteen still lifes by the artist. Flowers in a crystal vase standing on a stone pedestal, with a dragonfly[1] was given to Louis XIV by the Marquis de Beringham and is today in the Musée du Louvre. It shares with the Richard Green painting the poppy poised at the apex of the composition, a white rose in the centre and a similar striped tulip on the left-hand side.



Note on the provenance


This painting was part of the collection of Count Joachim Godske Moltke (1746-1818), a member of one of the most prominent Danish aristocratic families of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He was the son of Count Adam Gotlob Moltke (1710-1792), Lord Chamberlain and confidant of King Christian V, who amassed a large collection of mostly Dutch and Flemish Old Masters and was a moving spirit behind the development of the exquisite Amalienborg complex in Copenhagen. Joachim Godske Moltke served as a Privy Councillor and was Prime Minister of Denmark from 1814 to 1818; deeply interested in science, he gave an important natural history collection to the University of Copenhagen. The Mignon still life descended in the Moltke family at their estate, Bregentved, until it was sold in 1931.





Abraham Mignon, Flowers in a crystal vase standing on a stone pedestal, with a dragonfly.

Musée du Louvre.




Joachim Godske Moltke (1746-1818).



Frankfurt-am-Main 1640 – 1679 Utrecht


Abraham Mignon was born in Frankfurt-am-Main, the son of a cheese merchant and the descendant of Walloon craftsmen who had emigrated from the French-speaking part of the Catholic Southern Netherlands in order to practice their Calvinist faith. Although his parents moved to Wetzlar in 1649, Abraham became a pupil of Jacob Marrel in Frankfurt, probably towards the end of 1650. Marrel brought Mignon to Utrecht on one of his many visits to that city, where he himself had lived in the 1630s and 40s. When this move occurred exactly is uncertain. It is generally assumed it took place around 1664, but it may well have been earlier, perhaps shortly after the death of Mignon’s father in 1660. In 1669 Mignon was registered as a master by the Utrecht guild. He was strongly influenced by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, and worked in that artist’s studio probably from his arrival in Utrecht until de Heem’s departure in 1672; after that, Mignon appears to have taken over the studio. In 1675 he married the granddaughter of the marine painter Adam Willaerts. For several years, from 1672 on, he was a deacon in the French Reformed Church in Utrecht, where he died in 1679, aged thirty-nine. He was a very prolific painter of flower and fruit pieces, and still lifes of dead birds.


Abraham Mignon apparently did not date any of his paintings and consequently it is quite impossible to establish a firm artistic chronology for his oeuvre, which probably spans no more than a mere fifteen years. In general, it would seem that after de Heem’s departure, Mignon’s style became more graphic and less tonal. His larger, sumptuous and most highly finished still lifes of flowers and of fruit – details of which are hardly discernable from those by de Heem – probably date from the years around 1670, when the artist was working most closely with the great master.


Even during Mignon’s lifetime his works were in great demand. The Elector of Saxony owned thirteen of his paintings which later entered the collection of the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden; his paintings were also acquired by Louis XIV of France. Both Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) and Coenraet Roepel (1678-1748) were inspired by Mignon’s work.


The work of Abraham Mignon is represented in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne; the Louvre, Paris; the Mauritshuis, The Hague; the Uffizi, Florence and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.


[1] Oil on panel: 34 ½ x 26 ¾ in / 88 x 68 cm. Inv. no.1556.

Old MasterAbraham Mignon