The paintings in this gallery were given to the Museum in 1939 by Theodore W.H. Ward (1879–1955) in memory of his wife, Daisy Linda Ward (1883–1937) who was herself a painter and opera singer. It is an extensive collection of more than 90 still-life paintings by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish artists and presents an outstanding representation of this genre.
The paintings cover a variety of subjects: arrangements of flowers, fruit, fish and game being popular themes. Many artists concentrated on one branch of still-life painting, while Adriaen Coorte went even further in specialisation and painted no fewer than 12 paintings featuring asparagus; one is on display here on the left-hand wall as you enter the gallery. Some artists gave their paintings a symbolic meaning by including references to the transience of life such as fruit beginning to rot, flowers losing their petals or the inclusion of items such as watches, skulls and hourglasses in the composition. However most works were created primarily to showcase the artist’s skill at realism.
If you look carefully at the flower arrangements you may notice that some feature plants which flower in different seasons so we know that they couldn’t have been painted together from life. The artist would make studies of plants in season and then put them together in one composition. Artists would also have various ‘props’ such as vases, bowls in their studios which would recur in different paintings.