After Juan de Arellano (1614-1676), Bartolomé Pérez was the most important painter of floral still lives working at the court in the seventeenth century. Although he is documented as training first in the workshop of Andrés de la Torre, it seems that he also had contact with Arellano, who had elevated the genre of still life painting and dominated its production in Madrid for more than 30 years. In fact Pérez married his daughter in 1663 and his first signed flower pieces date from 1665.
Upon Juan’s death in 1676, Pérez took over the latter’s workshop along with his brother-in-law, José. His decorative still lives won him recognition at court and this gave him greater importance as an artist. After his involvement in the temporary decorations for the arrival of María Luisa de Orleans in Madrid in 1679, he painted works for the dressing room of the Queen in the Alcázar (1686) and participated in the decorations of theatrical productions in the Coliseo del Buen Retiro. As a result, Pérez was nominated honorary Painter to the King in 1689 and the following year he undertook the decoration of the bedroom of Carlos II. The promising rise of his career was cut short by his death in a work accident, while painting in the Madrid palace of the Duque de Monteleón.
Although his floral still lives are close to his father-in-law’s, Pérez developed his own personal style, as can be seen in the present pair of small-scale works. Since he was also familiar with the non-Spanish artists that had inspired Arellano, he did not restrict himself to simply following a successful formula. In private collections in Madrid, there were, for example, flower pieces by the greatest practitioners of the genre, among them Daniel Seghers, Jan Brueghel the Elder and Mario Nuzzi. It was with the latter’s still lives that Arellano’s and Pérez’s works have the greatest affinity, along with Nuzzi’s followers such as Paolo Porpora. Pérez also referenced other artists of his generation, among them Andrea Belvedere and Abraham Brueghel.
These two small canvases reveal a less well-known aspect of Pérez’s art, his cabinet paintings. The reduced size of the pair corresponds to the decorative requirements of collectors towards the end of the century. While his larger-scale vases and baskets of flowers clearly derive from models made fashionable in Madrid by Arellano, these new works are adaptations of the artist’s repertoire to a more intimate vision. The composition is essentially the same – a bouquet of flowers in half-shadow – and it recalls some of the signed floral garlands painted by Pérez towards the end of the 1680s, such as the Garland of flowers with Saint Anthony of Padua in the Museo del Prado (P03655). In the darkness the bright colours emerge, as do the organic shapes of the plants picked out by the light. Arranged in luxurious vases with bronze mounts, the still lives were aimed at a refined clientele.
The small scale of these works makes them no less accomplished. Pérez renders the varying textures of the flowers with a versatile use of the brush: for example, the firm petals of the tulips are painted with a precision that differs from the more painterly description of the roses that imparts a soft, velvety texture to them. Furthermore, the combination of the flowers and the coloring are typical of Pérez, painted as always with delicacy and a contrast between the bright colours of the leaves and the darker surroundings in which they are framed.