(1788 Vienna – 1866 Vorderbrühl)

Still Life with Peonies and a Dead Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis). Watercolour and gouache. 25 x 36 cm. Circa 1830–40.

Leopold Brunner the Elder studied at the Vienna Academy under Johann Baptist Drechsler, a painter of flowers and fruits, a genre in which he himself was later to specialise with success. He achieved a considerable reputation in this field and in 1815 was commissioned by the Austrian Crown Prince Ferdinand to produce watercolours with subjects referring to natural history. In 1835, Brunner was appointed court painter. He subsequently produced a very extensive drawn oeuvre for Emperor Ferdinand, mostly watercolours of scientific content. At the same time Brunner devoted himself to free artistic works and to this end stayed in 1830 in Russia and Warsaw, where he provided a distinguished circle of customers with his popular flower paintings.

The present still life, executed in a reverent and versatile watercolour technique, is distinguished by its effective and decorative mise-en-page. The opulent blooms, whose lushness and texture are convincingly depicted, are distributed like arabesques across the sheet. Brunner uses delicate white heightening applied with a pointed brush to faithfully render the feathers of the rigid colourful songbird. The Vanitas notion recedes into the background, however. Instead the artist is at pains to achieve a deliberately decorative and aesthetic effect.