Gertler executed two versions of Vase with Flowers in 1925 and both were clearly executed at the same time. The other work is titled as Bouquet of Flowers (fig. 1) and has the same measurements as Vase with Flowers. This second version was purchased by the Government Art Collection from the Leicester Galleries in 1959. At least one other flower still life by Gertler has been dated to 1925, Still Life with Dahlias and Chrysanthemums (1925, Private Collection).
The two works are both clearly dated to 1925 and were probably painted while Gertler was staying at Frinton-on-Sea in Essex during August that year. While he was there, he wrote to his friend the Russian translator S.S. Koteliansky. ‘The last two days I have been absorbed in painting flower pieces – one each day – which means painting all day with hardly a stop. I have just finished my second’. The naturalism of these rapidly and exactingly executed flower pieces was remarkably uninhibited for Gertler; later works often show signs of re-working, with the paint surface becoming ratcheted and uneven. By contrast, Vase with Flowers appears as fresh as the day it was painted – the impression of fragile blooms rendered in bright, persuasive colours.
Both Vase with Flowers and Bouquet of Flowers depict the same fulsome bunch of summer flowers, including a rose, daisies, Gladioli and poppies, arranged in wide and squat ceramic vase. The background is brown in colour, lightening in the central passage of the picture behind the flowers and diminishing to shadow at the outer edges. The vase stands at the edge of an undressed wooden table top, which comes to an abrupt end before reaching the lower right-hand corner of the picture. A slight reflection of the vase shimmers at the central lower edge, suggesting that the wood surface may be polished. The Government Art Collection version was evidently painted second, when some flowers had withered slightly (the Helenium has lost some of its petals) and others had come out (the Gladioli have opened a little, for example).
Despite his depressive character, Gertler enjoyed a modicum of professional success throughout the 1920s. In 1925, he was featured in Fleuron’s monograph series ‘British Artists of To-day’, the other subjects of which included Duncan Grant, Paul and John Nash, Gilbert Spencer and Frank Dobson. In response to his solo exhibition at the Goupil Gallery a few years earlier in 1921, an anonymous reviewer described Gertler as ‘a consummate artist who is fast learning to express himself in a highly personal and effective style. And if he has mannerisms they are rendered innocuous by a vast store of genuine originality’. Though his work was regularly exhibited throughout the period at the Goupil Gallery, a year before painting Vase with Flowers Gertler placed an advertisement for pupils in The Burlington Magazine – a hint to financial pressures which might in turn be related to his mental ill-health at the time.
Daphne Sanger At Sotheby's, London, 10 March 1993, lot 49 (listed as 'Daisies, Gladioli, Poppies and Red Rose in a Vase') Hubert James Ben Uri Gallery & Museum, bequeathed 2002
Possibly 1925, London, R.W.S. Galleries, Twenty-Second Exhibition of the London Group, 6 - 26 June 1925 cat. no. 46 (listed as 'Flowers') 1925, London, Goupil Gallery, Summer Exhibition, dates unknown, cat. no. 83 or 97 (both listed as 'Flowers', costing £35 and £40 respectively) Possibly 1926, London, Goupil Gallery, Works by Mark Gertler, John Nash, Gilbert Spencer, May 1926, cat. no. 32, 39 or 42 (all listed as 'Flowers', costing 35, 40 and 25 guineas respectively) 2002, London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Mark Gertler: A New Perspective, 30 Sept. - 1 Dec. 2002, unnumbered 2006, London, Ben Uri Gallery - The London Jewish Museum of Art, Recent Acquisitions 2001-2006, 6 - 31 Dec. 2006, unnumbered
Oil Paintings in Public Ownership: Camden, vol. 11, The Public Catalogue Foundation, 2013, p. 15 (illus.) The work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Mark Gertler's paintings by Sarah MacDougall, to be published by Yale University Press.
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