Dutch flowers in The National Gallery

NG6613 Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder A Still Life of Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase on a Ledge with further Flowers, Shells and a Butterfly 1609-10 Oil on copper © The National Gallery, London

What a wonderful way to celebrate the beginning of Spring! In London in The National Gallery started an exhibition about Dutch Flowers. It explores the evolution of Dutch Flower painting over the course of two centuries. The small exhibition features 22 works by some of the most accomplished painters of this genre including Jan Brueghel the Elder, Ambrosius Bosschaert, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jan van Huysum, Roelandt Savery and Rachel Ruysch.

NG1002 Jacob van Walscappelle Flowers in a Glass Vase about 1670 Oil on canvas, mounted onto oak 59.8 x 47.5 cm © The National Gallery, London

Tulip Mania

At the turn of the 17th 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 undoubtedly linked to the development of scientific interest in botany and horticulture at the close of the 16th century.

This period saw the establishment of botanical gardens in the Netherlands as well as 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 ‘tulip mania’. Prices soon crashed, however the Dutch enchantment with flowers endured.

NG796, Jan van Huysum, Flowers in a Terracotta Vase, 1736, Oil on canvas, 133.5 x 91.5 cm © The National Gallery, London

Changing flower compositions

The earliest flower paintings feature flat, symmetrical arrangements comprising flowers from different seasons. Over the course of the 17th century, bouquets became 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 18th 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 illusionistic perfection of their brushwork.

NG3225 Paulus Theodorus van Brussel Flowers in a Vase 1792 Oil on mahogany 81.1 x 58.9 cm © The National Gallery, London

Betsy Wieseman, Curator of Dutch and Flemish Paintings said:

“This gorgeous display draws attention to the National Gallery’s extensive collection of Dutch flower paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. It is the first exhibition in London to be devoted to this perennially popular theme in over 20 years. The recent addition of several extraordinary long-term loans to the National Gallery Collection, on view here for the first time, enables the Gallery to show how flower painting developed in the Netherlands over the course of two centuries. Every major figure in the genre is represented, including Jan Brueghel the Elder, Ambrosius Bosschaert, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jan van Huysum, and Rachel Ruysch.”


On view from 6 April – 29 August 2016. Great to combine a visit to the National Gallery with the Royal Academy of Arts and see Painting the Modern Garden as well. Or fly in for a few days and visit the flower shows at Chelsea and Hampton Court for a Flower Weekend in London. I would love to join you!

My absolute favorite of this expo is ‘The Still Life of Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase’. I like the title better than the actual vase. But the bouquet and the variety of flowers is beautiful and well picked. What is your favorite work and why?

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Beautywhizz says:

    I have just read about this exhibition so thank you for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. The exhibition just opened yesterday!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. saroberts041 says:

    Thankyou Saskia for giving me a snippet of a wonderful Exhibition – a bit too far from Australia! Shirley


    1. Too bad this exhibition doesn’t travel around the world. I am sure a lot of people would love the Dutch flower still-life paintings.


  3. Ik vind het laatste schilderij het mooist. Prachtig, die kleuren en de achtergrond met het groene behang. Ik zou graag even naar Londen vliegen!


  4. BunKaryudo says:

    I remember hearing about “Tulip Mania” in my history classes at school. I like the pictures, especially the last one (Paulus Theodorus van Brussel, Flowers in a Vase). The artist made a wonderful job of it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Flowers really are an ever-lasting theme 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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