In Search of the Tulip: botanical painter Fiona Strickland makes an artistic pilgrimage to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum

October 11, 2016 4:07 pm Published by



Perfect Timing – Fiona Strickland

Contemporary botanical painter Fiona Strickland is fascinated by the tulip in all its myriad forms. Preparations for The Vital Moment, her first solo show at Chelsea’s Jonathan Cooper Gallery in October 2016, gave Fiona the perfect reason to undertake an artistic pilgrimage to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, where she was able to study a rare seventeenth-century Tulip Book by Jacob Marrel.

The Vital Moment

7930324_fiona3A short, but welcome break, from intense studio work in late February proved to be much more than a treat for a ‘special’ birthday.

The day began with breakfast at Koffehuis de Hoek on Prinsengracht, where there are always more locals than tourists, jazz, great toast, homemade jam and randomly placed tulip tiles. This was followed by a canal-side walk on an expectedly cold and crisp morning along the Herengracht, the most important canal in the city, where only the most influential lived in the seventeenth century. It was the perfect way to get in the mood for my ‘Tulipomania’ research with Marja Stiijkel, Study-Room Co-ordinator at the Rijksmuseum.

Marja had persuaded the director of the Study Room to let me view Jacob Marrel’s Tulip Book from 1637 which showcased the most sought after variegated tulips of the seventeenth century, particularly if they had a white or yellow base colour and red or purple as a second colour.  There are very few complete Tulip Books in existence and they are only very rarely exhibited due to their fragile state, so having the opportunity to view this privately at a break in preparing for my Jonathan Cooper exhibition, The Vital Moment, was quite serendipitous.

Marrel’s paintings in this book were executed in watercolour and gouache and it may have been that an assistant would have completed the stem and leaves. As a painter intrigued by artists’ methods, image, composition and so on, I’m fascinated by how and why particular visual elements are selected.

I noticed Marrrel used the paint quite economically to describe the form of the tulips. The linear content in this case was hugely important in the close7930326_fiona5 observation of the shapes of the broken pattern on the tulip, which followed the contour of the bulb to describe form with minimal use of tone – quite the opposite of my intense, multi-layered transparent watercolours.

I reminded myself that of course this was a catalogue for potential buyers, and to me it certainly served as descriptive illustration, making me wonder if perhaps, in addition to its use as a catalogue, he might have used the illustrations as information for his own beautifully executed oil paintings.

My paintings depict flowers from an unusual viewpoint or at turning points in their life cycle and seek to challenge perceptions of botanical art. Although botanically accurate and inspired more by an emotive and artistic response, this short but timely break and study of the Marrel Tulip Book not only inspired, but posed questions which would ultimately affect some small works I had planned on vellum. With Rembrandt bulbs from ‘Jacques Armand’ approaching flowering in a few months it was certainly time to sip my fresh mint tea in the Rijksmuseum café, refreshed and rejuvenated at the vital moment for my short flight home to Edinburgh.

Fiona Strickland

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