The piece belongs to a series of peony paintings Manet painted from 1864-1865. Peonies were said to be Manet’s favourite flow, as he grew them in the garden outside of his house. Manet's paintings of still life carried an incredibly detail oriented technique to the art, a style that transcends through centuries. Manet based his art on intertwining the different senses together, allowing for the viewer to feel the different elements of smell, touch, taste, site, and sound through his work. Manet’s piece, A Small Vase of Peonies, carries the similar technique to other still lifes: Asparagus, The Execution of Maximillion, and Rochefort’s Escape.
The painting illustrates a tall beautiful vase of flowers. The base of the vase, is coloured in a white shade, with an interact design incorporated on the vase, illustrating a gold bird. Above the vase, a bushel of peonies pours out. The prominent flowers within the piece are snow-white peonies that hold the light undertone of pink. Manet had incorporated a few light shades of pink and orange to add shade to the flowers to illustrate their texture. The petals on the flowers showcase a velvet texture, highlighting a silky sheen to it. Above the white flower, stands a single blood red flower, brining attention to the piece. The red flower darkens near the middle, incorporating burgundy shades around the outside to illustrate the petals dying.
Along the table of the painting lies a white branch of peonies, delicately placed by an individual. To the right of the flower that lies across the table, a small pile of dead flower petals lay in a darker shade. The contrasts between the flowers that are alive compared to the ones that are dead illustrate the symbolism of nature in all its forms. A natural flower that is incredibly beautiful and the focal point of the painting cannot be ignored as it carries the future of death. Art critics debate that the painting symbolizes life and death through the flowers. Other art critics state that the painting was a theme Manet was in tuned with, and felt that the dead flower petals added to the work. It is unknown whether Manet had created the vase filled with peonies and then painted, or if it was based on an image held in his head. However, Manet incorporate a realist technique to his work, showcasing a detail oriented painting, A Small Vase of Peonies.