Flowers with a View
16" x 12" oil on panel
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all
his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
And so it begins. Through the course of a painters career certain events happen that form new ideas and push them forward to try new things, new subjects, sometimes they work, and sometimes not. Here, my "happening thing" was a discovery of technique. A discovery of studio secrets that were left behind unintentionally some 300 plus years ago by an artist who was merely uninspired by a painting that he had started.
This frugal minded artist was in the beginning stages of a small floral still life; dark background, totally black as in all finished. On this background were unearthly orbs of bright colors: orange, pink, yellow, green and white, vague in shape, looking more like a piece of modern art from the twentieth century then the beginnings of a master painting from the early seventeenth. But for some reason, and here your mind goes through all the various scenarios, this artist decided to flip over his copper panel and begin again in what will be a typical flower piece of his time, full of big rosy blooms with little water droplet's and insects hidden throughout.
Start of one of my tulip paintings
Working the details on a Vice Roy tulip
Daniel Seghers (1599 - 1661) left us a rare treasure, a glimpse into the secrets of his studio and how he, as well as some of his contemporaries had begun their abundant, very Dutch in flavor flower still life paintings. And for me, this was the starting point for my new subject matter.
Seghers was from the age of scientific discoveries, when the fascination for the examination of all things, large and small was taking over the imagination of the Dutch Republic. The use of the microscope was bringing to light much that had been hidden for so long, and now a new world was opening up. Through printed books and lectures the common person was now able to enjoy this new knowledge. And flowers, with all their natural beauty was included in this new fascination.
If you look at the early flower paintings at the beginning of the 17th century it is easy to see that each individual flower was on display. Unlike later on in the century when the overall feel of the flower bouquet as a whole was the main goal of the artist, during Seghers time the individual beauty of each flower was showcased and placed on the panel so that the owner of the painting could enjoy each and every bulb, each showing off their unique beauty. In most cases you can see that the flowers that were center stage rarely overlapped one another, adding to the intensity of each.
Detail of working on roses
Any flower connoisseur viewing one of these bouquets would quickly come to the realization that the grouping of flowers they were looking at would have been impossible to have been cut and brought into the studio at the same time. Blooming in different seasons, they would not have been together all in the same painting. The 17th century viewers would have realized this too, and for them, this would not have been an issue. They were not so interested in the seasonal accuracy of what flowers would be blooming with what, but more to having a nice image of the most prestigious flowers of the time, especially during Tulipomania of the 1630's. The craze for tulips in Holland became such that throughout the course of the 1630's individual tulip bulbs were selling for fantastic amounts of money. It was indeed a buying and selling mania. With an increasing currency in the Dutch Republic, and with new economic and colonial possibilities as well as a keen and energetic class of merchants, together this had created the atmosphere in which booms are said to grow. All that was needed was the right commodity, and the tulip obligingly presented itself.
10" x 8" oil on panel
With keeping in mind the annual earnings of 250 guilders for a carpenter during the 1630's, here is the astonishing price history of one Semper Augustus bulb approaching and during the mania:
1624 = 1,200 guilders, 1625 = 2,400 guilders, 1633 = 5,500 guilders, and at the height of tulipomania in 1637 this one bulb sold for 10,000 guilders! Rembrandt's Night Watch sold in 1642 for 1,600 guiders. Mania indeed! So you can now see that with such exorbitant prices placed on a tulip that would be viewed for a mere few weeks a year, one could rather spend a few guilders on a nice 12 inch by 9 inch panel displaying all the glory of a Semper Augustus and enjoy it year round!
In the aftermath of Tulipomania a number of artists started using the tulip as a warning to consumers, as a vanitas symbol and showing the transience of all earthly delights. You would find sometimes the image of a skull with flowers, or a bubble with flowers so delicately rendered that it seemed as if it would pop at any moment. An open pocket watch was another common companion in these vanitas still life's. Plus, the flowers themselves, their temporariness is a symbol in itself. And as most early artists painted a bouquet of only the most robust looking blooms, shown at the peak of their short life, some artists added wilting petals and drooping stems tired from holding up their heavy burden, as well as insect eaten leaves, adding to the realism of the painting for sure, but at the same time reinforcing the severe warning preached throughout their republic at that time of temperance and the need to concentrate on the more important things in life, as it will not last forever. Although, I would be willing to bet that most of the buying public purchased their bloemstukken for the mere beauty of it as well as the exquisite mastery of brushwork by the artist that made it so attractive.
At work in the studio on a large floral
For a good book on the phenomenon of tulipmania I recommend Tulipomania by Mike Dash. Worth the read for a good image and understanding of the build up to as well as the aftermath of this extraordinary event in Dutch history.
Red Flamed Tulips with Roses
14" x 11" oil on panel
Be sure to find me somewhere during the 2017 art show season and take a look at the new flower pieces in person. My website www.jameswhitbeck.com will show all new work as well as an up to date show schedule. For the past year I have had a Facebook page for my artwork, on which I post works in progress as well as notices and photos of upcoming art shows, so click the facebook link on my website and follow me. Also worthy of note is that the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut will be, once again, holding a series of lectures on the Dutch Golden Age and what they brought back during their world wide expansion of their trade routes. Looks definitely well worth the trip to this outstanding museum to attend these lectures as well as taking a stroll through the museum to view their wide collection of great art. Click here to access the Yale lecture series and more information on these talks.
All my best, and happy Spring!
(413) 695 3937