Upon visiting Simon Verelst in his studio near St. James's Market, London, in 1669, famed diarist Samuel Pepys wrote that A Dutchman newly come over, one Everelst...did show us a little flower-pott of his doing, the finest thing that ever I think I saw in my life -- the drops of Dew hanging on the leaves, so as I was forced again and again to put my finger to it to feel whether my eyes were deceived or no. He doth ask £70 for it; I had the vanity to bid him £20 -- but a better picture I never saw in my whole life, and it is worth going twenty miles to see (R. Latham and W. Matthews, eds., The Diary of Samuel Pepys, London, IX, 1976, pp. 514-515). The extraordinary veracity of Verelst's painting technique, so memorably celebrated by Pepys, is certainly evident in the present work, as viewers may find themselves compelled to reach out and touch the gaping petals of the parrot tulip at center, the tightly closed rosebuds resting gently on the stone ledge and the delicate reflection in the rounded glass vase.
To create his still lifes, Verelst was inspired by Delft-born Willem van Aelst (1627-1687), who developed flower pieces distinctive for the juxtaposition of brightly colored blooms against a dark background. Working in this tradition, Verelst developed the characteristic composition and color scheme seen in the present work: an S-shaped axis with a visually striking flower at either end in white, pink, orange or red, and the center fully illuminated. While it is difficult to date his paintings precisely, this picture can be compared to a still life in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, dated 1669 (inv. PD.50-1975). It was in this year that Verelst, who was born in The Hague, moved to England, and his simple flower-pieces gave way increasingly to more complex compositions.
As Pepys attests, Verelst met great acclaim in England. He became one of the country's most renowned flower painters and achieved success with the highest level of patronage: at least six of his pictures entered the royal collection. According to George Vertue, Verelst began painting portraits at the prompting of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, and received commissions from the Court. Yet, as Vertue noted, Verelst grew very proud and conceited and took to calling himself 'God of Flowers' and 'King of Painting' before suffering a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, the painter Gérard de Lairesse (1640-1711) used similar praise to describe Verelst in 1707, writing The writer holds up Verelst as the most celebrated flower painter there ever was. Verelst topped everything in astonishment for those who knew him at his peak. Indeed if there was an illustrious flower painter, it was he (G. de Lairesse, Groot schilderboek, Haarlem, 1740, II, p. 356; quoted in A. Chong and W. Kloek, Still-life paintings from the Netherlands 1550-1720, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam, 1999, p. 262).