The National Gallery: Dutch Flowers

 OK, so this is right up our street and if you are a regular reader of McQueens blog, we imagine it’s right up yours, too. The National Gallery is exhibiting a collection of sumptuous floral art exploring the evolution of Dutch flower paintings over the course of two centuries. Beautiful, blousey and bursting with colour, these gorgeous and glorious floral depictions will make you gasp with delight as it is the first display of its kind in the UK for more than twenty years.
Through twenty-two works, Dutch Flowers 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.  About half of the works on display have come from the Gallery’s permanent collection, and the rest from private collections. Many are on loan too, so you won’t have seen them here before.

At the turn of the seventeenth century, Dutch painters such as Jan Brueghel the Elder, Ambrosius Bosschaert and Roelandt Savery were among the first artists to produce paintings that exclusively depicted flowers. The sudden emergence of this genre is largely due to the development of scientific interest in botany and horticulture at the close of the sixteenth century. At this time, botanical gardens first gained popularity in the Netherlands, and there was a booming international trade in exotic cultivars. By the 1630s, speculative prices for the most coveted bulbs and flowering plants had reached spectacular heights; the so-called ‘Tulipmania’ of the era. Although prices inevitably crashed, the Dutch love affair with flowers in all their forms endured.

The earliest flower paintings feature flat, symmetrical arrangements comprising flowers from different seasons. Over the course of the seventeenth century, bouquets become more relaxed, with asymmetrical rhythms and a willingness to overlap even the most costly flowers to create a more natural sense of depth. By the end of the eighteenth century, flower paintings were considered largely decorative, with a lighter palette more in keeping with ‘modern’ tastes. Throughout the period, many artists favoured smooth copper or wood panel supports that enhanced the perfection of their brushwork. If you’re visiting the Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows this summer, this exhibition will give you a unique opportunity to compare and contrast these flower paintings with modern day horticulture.

The artists could never have imagined how admired and coveted their work would be hundreds of years later, and this collection highlights their skill and dedication. The technical achievements of the artists alone is more than enough to warrant a visit, but for flower lovers and florists alike, this exhibition offers a wonderful insight into the art of flower arranging going back through the centuries. You won’t want to miss it.

The National Gallery, 6 April – 29 August 2016
Admission free.

Details at www.nationalgallery.org.uk

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