Historical tulip painting project
Dutch heirloom tulips, 1595 to 1850
I’ve always had a thing for history and heritage. Being a Dutch expat in the United Kingdom (yes, don’t mention Brexit), I’ve long wanted to paint tulips and ideally tulips that were fashionable in 17th-century Holland, when we were even more under the spell of the tulip than we are today. Tulipmania (“tulpenmanie”or “tulpengekte”) was a period (1635-1637) in the Dutch Golden Age during which contract prices for some bulbs of the recently introduced and fashionable tulip reached extraordinarily high levels and then dramatically collapsed in February 1637 [Wikipedia].
Do any of the tulips from the tulpenmanie period still exist? Yes, old genetic stocks can still be purchased through Hortus Bulborum, a foundation in The Netherlands that functions as a gene bank and propagates historical heirloom bulbs. Some of these are no longer in commercial production (http://www.hortus-bulborum.nl). Every year I purchase several varieties from between 1595 and 1850 and plant them in my garden. I then paint series of paintings when the flowers surface, which is from mid-April onwards. I keep a photo library as well.
You can see some of the paintings below. Most of the heritage tulips, unlike the ones we have today, have a distinctive crown-like shape and pointy petals; some varieties are comparatively short. Their colour is amazingly deep and rich. These tulips may not be very genetically stable which makes them all the more special – painting them gives me an opportunity to celebrate and save a bit of Dutch cultural heritage.
In the 2019 tulip season (April-May), I’ll be visiting the Hortus Bulborum to paint tulips in their gardens. I’ll be especially looking to record the legendary and rare Zomerschoon tulip, which was first intoduced in 1620 and was very popular during the Tulpenmanie period.
Dutch 17th-19th century tulips (in progress), 30cm 40cm, oil on fine linen
Wapen van Leiden (1750), 14cm x 24cm, oil on wood panel
Duc van Tol Max Cramoisi & Rood en Geel, 14cm x 24cm, oil on wood panel
Dutch heritage tulips, 20cm x 40cm, oil on fine linen