Dutch Flowers

Prior to PHOTO LONDON, I visited National Gallery for an new exhibition, Dutch Flowers. The event was timed to coincide with RHS’s flower shows at Chelsea and Hampton Court.

I am afraid there is no image to show you as photographing was banned at this particular show. 

In spite of being a small scale show, it didn’t disappoint me, or it was precisely because a number of the paintings were limited, I was left craving for more. The works by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Jan van Huysum and Rachel Ruysch were utterly exquisite and it transformed the walls of the intimate gallery space to a heavenly visual feast.

A tradition of Dutch flower painting stemmed from the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. During this period, the country underwent successful wars and a transition to becoming a republic, and as a result, prospered in trade, science, military and art. Most notably, Dutch East India Company had emerged and it monopolised on Asian trade for two centuries. A large variety of exotic goods were imported from all over the world in order to satisfy insatiable desire of a new social class – the affluent middle class which was consisted of Protestant ministers, lawyers, physicians, small merchants, industrialists and clerks of large state institutions. 

Tulip was one of those exotic arrivals from the East which was introduced to the Dutch soil by Carolus Clusius, a famous biologist from Vienna…

A point of Dutch still life painting differed greatly from the Baroque-style art which dominated the rest of the 17th century Europe. Instead of idealising religion or the existing political hierarchy and using mythical figures for expressing the splendours, Dutch artists studied their subjects with more observant eye, surveying and drafting as scientists or doctors would dissect and analyse their specimens. 

Cognoscenti in a Room hung with pictures, painted about 1620…

A Dutch flower painting is hung on the wall of the imaginary gallery in Antwerp. 

My eyes traced details on each part of the paintings – a petal, a leaf, a stem, a stalk, as well as the vase it was placed and the insects which congregated around it. They were meticulously illustrated and the result was magically real and fascinating. The sensation of seeing the paintings recalled a joyful time I enjoyed while I attended a drawing class when I was young. How a simple exercise of being face to face with the subject and transferring what my eyes saw onto a sheet of paper removed me from a chaos of daily life and enriched my sense for the objects around me. I would love to take up the practice again, I thought.

There were a few images I spotted at PHOTO LONDON yesterday.

Still life by Sharon Core…

Nexus by Ysabel Lemay…

Peaches and Hydrangeas by Paulette Tavormina…

Visiting the exhibition made me realise that I was being lazy when it came to seeing things. Because of my everyday life being inundated with objects jockeying to catch my eyes through shop windows, TV, internet and a smartphone, my attention span in general became far too short to discover anything meaningful. 

I must remember feasting with my eye and nourishing my mind can only happen when I take time to stop and look properly…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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