Tulip Nachtwacht – A Dutch Master in Bloom
What’s in a name?
What do you name a new tulip variety when up till now it’s only had a number? That is the task a group of tulip farmers were faced with when they were presented with a brand-new flower in the late 1990s. They realized this beautiful double tulip with peony-like blooms would definitely be a hit, but it would need a name that would evoke the same feeling this discovery did: opulence, richness, elegance, history, the kind of tulip that would grace a mantlepiece in a stately home or be the first thing to greet guests in the foyer of a country club. Looking at the reddish-purple petals with their yellow-flecked insides, and at the elegant ivory and yellow stripes that mimicked brushstrokes inspiration struck: it should be named after a famous Dutch painting. But which one?
If you were to stop a Dutch person on the street and ask them to name the most famous Dutch painting, they would all give you the exact same answer, because just like knowing the name of the King or the colors of the flag, it’s part of their shared cultural knowledge. It might surprise you however, to learn that it’s not one of van Gogh’s colorful paintings, but instead a painting called De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch) painted in 1642 by Rembrandt van Rijn, the most famous of the Dutch Masters.
This painting shows a militia guard group getting ready for the night’s work. Back in the 17th century these groups did the jobs that nowadays are done by the police and the fire department. Every town and city had one or more of these groups, which were quite powerful and often very rich. And like all rich people of that age, they loved nothing more than commissioning paintings of themselves. But while other such group portraits were often quite formal, staid affairs, Rembrandt’s genius turned this standard commission into an absolute masterpiece. Not only is the piece a massive 140 by 170 inches, it also uses light and shadow in a very dramatic manner, creating a perception of movement and intensity that is absent in the other paintings.
Rembrandt’s painting takes pride of place at the Rijksmuseum (The Dutch National Museum) and is seen by almost 1 million visitor every year. It’s also one of the most popular icons in the museum gift shop. Knowing that the new tulip would very likely be similarly popular with gardeners and tulip lovers the world over, the name matched the tulip perfectly and Tulip Nachtwacht was born.
Like all double late tulips, Nachtwacht stands on tall stems growing up to 18 inches, and its flowers are almost 4 inches across. As the name suggests, these tulips bloom in late spring. Because of their rich color palette, they do really well in a bouquet on their own or combined with another double late tulip like Tulip Copper Image. This variety opens slowly, making it an excellent candidate for putting in a vase where it will last much longer than most other tulips.