AELST, Willem van
(b. 1627, Delft, d. ca. 1683, Amsterdam)

Vase of Flowers with Pocket Watch

Oil on canvas
Staatliche Museen, Kassel

Willem van Aelst was a still-life specialist prized for his lovely flower and fruit pieces, and he has been mentioned as a sometime follower of Kalf. The eminent flower painter Rachel Ruysch was his pupil.

This floral still-life has symbolic significance. The blooms, shown in all their glory, already imply the fading and dying that is to come, a reminder of the transience of beauty. A similar idea is communicated by the holes eaten in the leaves, while the open pocket-watch serves to suggest the passage of earthly time, as well as standing more generally for the importance of good measure. Yet the hour cannot be read from the face of the watch, and this might suggest that time is not passing, that the painter has brought time to a standstill in his work, overcoming the very transience of things.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):
Franz Schubert: Blumenlied (Flower Song) D 431