Dutch Masters: Painting Beautiful Flower Bulbs
Posted by Ben Rotteveel on

Dutch Masters: Painting Beautiful Bulbs

For the longest time the Netherlands was just a peaceful but dull country by the North Sea. However, in the 17th century a sudden economic boom occurred. The upper class and emerging middle class grew wealthier every year, and one of the things they did to showcase their new-found riches was to commission a record number of paintings to hang in their grand canal houses and stately homes.

The Dutch Masters

The painters of that era are commonly known as the ‘Dutch Masters’, and their paintings are just as valuable and sought-after now as they were back then. You might very well have heard of some of them: Rembrandt van Rijn is the painter of the famous ‘Night Watch’ and Johannes Vermeer is known the world over for his ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’.
Each Dutch master had their own specialty. Some, like Rembrandt and Vermeer painted portraits. Others, like Ruisdael and Cuyp specialized in landscapes. A third very popular genre were still lifes: They gave the painter a great opportunity to show off their skill and attention to detail. In the early days these still lifes depicted everyday items, but over the years the displays grew more and more ostentatious: expensive silverware, exquisite china, luscious fruits and the latest exotic craze…Tulips!
A small group of painters became known for focusing almost exclusively on still lifes of flowers. They could easily spend half a year on just one painting, and their style is sometimes almost hyper-realistic.

Connecting to Strangers

Often when we look at these old paintings, everything depicted feels very far away and alien to us. We no longer dress like this, build houses like this or live like these people did. But the beauty of plants and flowers is that they looked just the same then as they do now. These similarities can help us to feel a small connection to the people who lived back then. If they enjoyed the beauty of bulbs just as much as we do now, then maybe they are more like us than we thought…

A tour of the Masters

Let’s take a look at three still lifes to see if we can recognize some of the flowers that we still grow and love today:

Dutch Masters: Painting Tulips

In this opulent still life by Georgius van Os we can see the dramatic Crown Imperial, a sunny Daffodil Dutch Master, a flamed Tulip and a beautiful pale-blue Hyacinth.

Dutch Masters:  Painting Flower BulbsJan Davidsz de Heem filled a clear glass vase with, among others, Daffodil Salome,  stunning (and very representative for that time) Rembrandt Tulips and the small but oh so pretty Snakehead Fritillary. Also, don’t miss the cute little snail in the bottom right corner.

Dutch Masters; Paintings of Flower Bulbs

Ambrosius Bosschaert uses the backdrop of a dreamy landscape to showcase the same iconic pointy tulips, as well as some yellow and blue irises.

Growing the Past

Do you feel inspired by these skillful artists and their colorful paintings? Visit our website, order your favorites, plant them this fall and celebrate the Dutch Masters in your garden next spring!


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