Bouquets of Glimmering Flowers in Fading Vases over Frames

“Bouquets of Glimmering Flowers in Fading Vases over Frames”, Electric Room, Tehran, 2023

“Bouquets of Glimmering Flowers in Fading Vases over Frames” is an installation of paintings, plasterwork ornamentations and furniture by Shahrzad Jahan at Electric Room. The installation focuses on bringing together numerous studies the artist made based on and inspired by a single painting, the 1670s oil-on-canvas “Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase” by the Dutch painter Maria van Oosterwyck (1630–1693). The installation includes a number of Shahrzad’s paintings created over the past eighteen months along with plasterwork ornamentations.

Shahrzad’s process began with an encounter with the painting, its elaborate composition and elements, as well as masterful technique and execution. Going over on the experience, the artist writes: “I have been bewitched by this image and lived through its blooms, the decay and flourish that dances around, in the lily, the sunflower, the petite blue flowers. I have painted this image time and time over until it has become unrecognizable. It has been both a daily practice as well as a revolving experience over time. Even though each image was done in a day it was tangled to the one before and the one coming after and none of them repeated the other one even though this was my intention at first”. 

The original painting and the artistic life of its creator Maria van Oosterwyck remain unique in the specific time and region and within the course of European art history. Women could not become members in the guilds of painters, but she found her own path towards marketing her work. She was a devout artist as well as one that became commercially-successful. Earlier in her career, she employed the service of an agent that sold her pieces to German buyers, and over time her following and market grew exponentially. Her work was widely collected, even extensively acquired by courts of European monarchs. 

The particular piece, “Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase”, was created during a time when the Dutch had a deep fascination with flowers, owing to their rarity and high cost, as seeds and bulbs had to be imported from distant lands. 

 In Maria van Oosterwyck’s “Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase”, this variety includes “the portrayal of many different types of blossoms, the inclusion of foliage, the positioning of the flowers, and the inclusion of plants in different stages of growth and decay*”.

The artist’s technical prowess as well as her creative vision is especially evident in this painting and its composition. The composition is very elaborate, with the image comprising many layers, depths, and details, skillfully brought together with intricate plays of light, shadow and reflection. Moreover, it is noteworthy that “the bouquet in this painting would have been impossible to construct in real life because the flowers bloom in different seasons. Tulips, for example, bloom in the spring, while sunflowers bloom in the summer. Oosterwyck would have assembled this image of a fantasy bouquet from individual sketches she made in outdoor gardens [perhaps over several seasons or years]*”. 

Shahrzad Jahan’s practice spans painting, digital media, bookmaking and installation. Her work investigates how imagery and objects are defined within systems of power. In doing so, her practice often focuses on reading and reproducing images in repetition, and flows around rewriting imagery out of social constructs, politics of depiction and gender/identity into new settings. Her growing interest in “Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase” inspired her to pursue her study through a more fundamental approach: painting based on a celebrated work. The installation at Electric Room reflects on the artist’s encounters with the painting over a period of time, contemplating on such ideas as gender within a Eurocentric view of art history and its canon, as well as reimagining its historical context. 

Shahrzad aims to envision how she would have received the paintings by Maria van Oosterwyck as a source of inspiration were she living in a different time. In doing so she also appropriates plasterwork decorations that were also a European tradition introduced to Iran after travels and trades. Appropriating such techniques into her practice, she aims to create a space within the venue as a container that could exclusively host a defined set of thoughts, sensations and expressions. She also aims to ask a fundamental question about the source of artistic images: “how would it work if you were only stuck with one image, and nothing more, as if it’s a curse to be broken?” The question forgoes the original paintings context 

 * Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase | Denver Art Museum. (n.d.).