Zwart en Wit Rembrandt tulip (1780), oil on 23ct gold on copper, 10x15cm
I’ve always loved history and heritage, and have long admired the tulip paintings of 17th century Holland. A major part of my work is therefore painting heritage 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 during the 1630s, with a climax in 1636 and crash in 1637, during which prices for some bulbs reached extraordinarily high levels and then dramatically collapsed [Wikipedia and books by Mike Dash and Anna Pavord]. Tulips were popular throughout the century though, having been introduced to Holland in the late 1500s, and high prices were even paid towards the end of the 1600s.
Do any of the tulips from the tulpenmanie period still exist? Yes, old genetic stocks can still be purchased through Hortus Bulborum (http://www.hortus-bulborum.nl), a foundation in The Netherlands that preserves heritage tulip varietals. These tulips are no longer suitable for commercial production so only a handful of bulbs per variety can be bought. Sadly, the majority of the popular ‘broken’ tulips (ie tulips which did not fully develop their colours due to an aphid-spread mosaic virus) have gone extinct due to increased weakness: for example, the legendary Semper Augustus tulip has therefore been lost forever. A single bulb of this tulip is known to have changed hands for 12000 guilders in the 1630s, which is extraordinary given the annual salary of a skilled carpenter was 250 guilders.
Every year I purchase several varieties from the Hortus 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. I paint the tulips on fine linen or wood panel and since recently also on silver and 23ct gold (see image).
You can see more 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’ve finally managed to acquire 6 bulbs of the legendary and rare Zomerschoon tulip, which was first introduced in 1620 and was very popular during the Tulpenmanie period. I’ll be on the look-out for the parrot tulip ‘Perfecta” (1750) in 2021.
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 on Dutch heritage tulips. For more information about the SBA, please visit www.soc-botanical-artists.org
References: Anna Pavord, “The Tulip”; Mike Dash, Tulpengekte”, Hortus Bulborum Limmen (www.hortus-bulborum.nl)
Tulips grown in my garden:
Duc van Tol Rood & Geel (1595), Zomerschoon (1620), 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 (1780), Duc van Tol Cochineal (1700), Duc van Tol Red & White, Duc van Tol Orange (1700), Augusta (1875), Cerise Gris de Lin (1860), Duc de Berlin (1860), Adonis (1915), Bridesmaid Broken, Gloria Nigrorum (<1837), Helmar, Insulinde (1915), Mabel (<1915), Rubella broken, Royal Souvereign, The Lizard, Viridiflora Red Hue (<1700), Blue Flag (<1750), Tulipa clusiana Stellata (1827), Tulipa heweri, Tulipa polychroma (1885). Fritillaria: Fritilaria imp.Lutea 1665, Fritilaria imp.Profilera 1577, 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: vermilion, madder lake, lead-tin yellow, stil de grain/schietgeel, lapis lazuli, blue verditer, smalt, malachite, Mt Amiata sienas, Cyprus umbers, Cassel earth, lead white and lead white with chalk, and bone black. Some of these historical pigments are not lightfast or prone to discolouration and therefore used in line with comments published in 17th C contemporary, and modern academic literature.