Lush Still Life

“Flowers and floral motifs are everywhere in our lives, from birth to death,” write William A. Ewing and Danaé Panchaud in Flora Photographica (Thames & Hudson, 2022). “But we hardly ever acknowledge this ubiquity, nor give much thought to its significance.” In fact, blooms are intertwined with human emotion and experience, acting as symbols of love, joy, grief, loss, conflict and celebration. 77% of flower purchases involve a specific occasion or reason: birthdays, weddings, funerals and other milestone moments.

Shown here are lush photographic scenes by Margriet Smulders (b. 1955), in which plants take centre stage. Smulders constructs each still life on a large mirror, arranging them amongst hand blown glass objects and rich silk draperies. The resulting images depict petals, berries and leaves floating on water – causing ripples and washes of colour to bleed and blend. Sumptuous blues, pastel pinks and piercing reds collide in what the artist calls “visual dramas”; spaces where painterly abstraction meets optical trickery.

The series offers a contemporary take on the vanitas still life tradition, a genre of painting which first flourished in 1600s Northern Europe. Flowers, fruit and other objects were used to comment on mortality and the transience of life. “I deliberately select imperfect tulips from the grower that are not flawless enough to be sold in florists – always suggesting an unattainable moment of stasis before decay and rot set in.” Smulders is part of a new generation reinventing the genre, alongside Ori Gersht and Taryn Simon. In 2022, the works were featured by UNSEEN Amsterdam, Photo Basel and Lenscratch.


All images by artist Margriet Smulders, courtesy of Contour Gallery.