The National Gallery looks forward to spring with an exhibition entitled Dutch Flowers that explores the evolution of Dutch flower painting over the course of two centuries. The small exhibition features twenty-two works by some of the most accomplished painters of the genre including Jan Brueghel the Elder, Ambrosius Bosschaert, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jan van Huysum, Roelandt Savery and Rachel Ruysch.
The exhibition examines the origins of the genre, the height of its popularity in the Dutch Golden Age and its final flowering in the late eighteenth century. Approximately half the works on display will come from the Gallery’s permanent collection, and the rest from private collections. Many of the paintings will be on display here for the first time.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, several Netherlandish artists such as Jan Brueghel the Elder, Ambrosius Bosschaert and Roelandt Savery began to produce paintings that exclusively depicted flowers. In many ways the emergence of this genre was part of a larger cultural movement in the Netherlands. The Dutch trading empire was linked to a booming international trade in exotic plants and this period saw the development of scientific interest in botany and horticulture at the close of the sixteenth century and the establishment of botanical gardens in the Netherlands. This trade in exotic plants produced a series of crazes leading to the ‘ Tulipmania ‘ phenomena in the 1630s, when speculative prices for the most coveted bulbs and flowering plants led to financial ruin when prices crashed.
The exhibition illustrates the three main stages of the genre, the earliest flower paintings feature flat, symmetrical arrangements comprising flowers from different seasons.
Gradually over the course of the seventeenth century, bouquets become more informal, with asymmetrical patterns and a willingness to overlap to create a more natural sense of depth. Finally, by the end of the eighteenth century, flower paintings were considered largely decorative to adapt to ‘modern’ tastes.
Wandering around the exhibition provides plenty of evidence of the technical skill of the artists and how each painting is a small microcosm of what was happening in Dutch society. Some of the early works featured written religious scripts reminding the viewers that life like beautiful flowers are transient.
The various exotic plants featured illustrated the Netherlands international standing as a trading nation and the considerable wealth being accrued. The paintings themselves where avidly sought after by Dutch collectors and often sold for high prices.
This is a fascinating free exhibition that covers the extraordinary period of nearly 200 years when the Dutch obsession with exotic plants began to develop and number of Dutch artists created their own artistic genre. If you visit the exhibition, it is advisable to view the paintings at close quarters, as well as the fine brushwork, the artists have included a large number of insects and other features within the painting. Even the vases and other materials provides clues of the Dutch trading connections with the Far East.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information, visit the National Gallery website here
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