Sunday, 1 May 2016

Dutch Flowers

To the National Gallery for Dutch Flowers - a small but dazzling survey of the fashion in 17th and 18th century Holland for paintings of beautiful blooms. They are immaculately composed and rendered. The lighting effects are fantastic. Such is the skill of some of the artists that they make some of the flowers look as though they are not just spotlit, but illuminated from within. The show features some of the biggest names of the genre - Rachel Ruysch, Jan van Huysum, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jan Breughel the Elder and Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, and many of the pieces exhibited are from private collections.

What I learned from the exhibition is that the paintings are basically a deception and an artistic conceit. Many of the varieties of flower depicted in the compositions of the paintings are seasonal, so they would therefore not be available, or bloom at the same time in the way they do in these pictures. These paintings were created to show off the artist's skills and sense of composition, to feed the vanity of the collectors, and to fulfil the burgeoning market for the 'tulip-mania' which engulfed Holland, (which was to be the eventual downfall of many a wealthy flower collector and speculator of the period).

Some of the paintings really are the pinnacle of the artists' technical skills as the detail and colour of the flowers, delicacy of the rendering of surface textures of petals and leaves, and representation of the glow of the skins of healthy and decaying fruits are convincingly and superbly depicted.

The details of butterflies and other insects busying themselves flitting and crawling amongst the blooms are also great to observe. It's a timely exhibition with many trees and plants across the capital also currently bursting into bloom in the topsy-turvy weather we are experiencing this spring.

Dutch Flowers
until 29th August 2016
National Gallery
Trafalgar Square