TULIP PAINTINGS: DUTCH HERITAGE TULIPS – 16TH TO 19TH CENTURIES

Black and White Rembrandt tulip by Tanja Moderscheim

Zwart en Wit Rembrandt tulip (1780), oil on 23ct gold on copper, 10x15cm.

I’ve always had a thing for history and heritage, and have long admired the tulip paintings of 17th C Holland. A major part of my work is therefore painting 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 and books by Mike Dash and Anna Pavord].

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 heritage 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 (October/November). I then paint series of paintings when the flowers surface, which is from late February onwards. I keep a photo library as well which I use to ensure accuracy of the varieties when painting tulips the rest of the year.

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. Painting them gives me an opportunity to celebrate Dutch cultural heritage.

I’m currently looking to acquire the legendary and rare Zomerschoon tulip, which was first introduced in 1620 and was very popular during the Tulpenmanie period. I’ll also be on the look-out for the parrot tulip ‘Perfecta” (1750).

In September 2019 I was warmly welcomed as a new fellow member of the Society of Botanical Artists, UK. The decision was made based on my work with the Dutch heritage tulips. For more information about the SBA, please visit www.soc-botanical-artists.org

Rembrandt tulips post 1760 and Fritillaria Meleagris 1573 by Tanja Moderscheim

Rembrandt tulips post 1760 and Fritillaria Meleagris 1573

Tulip varieties

Tulips grown in my garden from the 2017/18 season onwards:

Duc van Tol Rood & Geel (1595), Lac van Rijn (1620), Duc van Tol Max Cramoisi (1700), Wapen van Leiden (1750), Keizerskroon (1750), Zilver Standaard (1760), Gouden Standaard (1760), Duc van Tol Scharlaken (1850).

Tulipa sylvestris (<1600), Red hue (<1700), Paeony gold (<1700), Duc van Tol violet (<1700), Duc van Tol Rose (1700), Absalon Rembrandt (1780), Purple Crown (1785), Rose Louisante fol. var. (1850), Bessie (<1857), Spaendonck (<1893), Zwart en Wit Rembrandt. Additionally planted: Fritillaria meleagris (1573).

17th C technique and pigments

I paint my tulips using the classical painting method which was commonly used during the 17th Century in Holland: dead-colouring followed by colour including glazes. I use the pigments of that time as well: my palette consists of vermillion, madder lake*, lead-tin yellow, stil de grain*, yellow ochre, lapis lazuli, umbers, bone black and lead white. My media are spike of lavender and poppyseed oils. (*not light-fast – only used to deepen shadows).