The Mauritshuis in The Hague has acquired a new flower still life by Balthasar van der Ast. Vase with a Single Tulip from c. 1625 is a rare painting (26.5 x 20 cm) showing only one flowering tulip. Watercolour drawings with the same scene have been preserved in full, such as in tulip albums for bulb growers. In contrast, only two Dutch paintings with a single tulip are known from the 17th century. In 2022, the panel was part of the exhibition In Full Bloom as a showcase for the tulip theme. With Vase with a Single Tulip, the Mauritshuis can present an even more complete picture of the developments in flower still lifes from the early 17th century onward. The acquisition was made possible thanks to the support of the VriendenLoterij.
Vase with a Single Tulip
The recent acquisition shows a red and white coloured tulip. In the 17th century, these “broken” tulips with flamed petals were the most popular, the reason why paintings almost never depict plain tulips. The only thing people didn’t know then is that the “flames” on the tulip were the result of a viral infection. Because of this, the tulip that came out of the bulb in the Spring, would not always be the same. On one of the leaves of the tulip is a butterfly, a blue, whose inner wings can be clearly seen with all the yellow dots. Next to the vase a fat humbug is painted. Whereas the butterfly can symbolize renewal and reincarnation, the humbug refers to death and decay. Probably a conscious choice by the painter to incorporate two extremes into a small and sympathetic painting. The fly points us to the inevitable withering of the tulip, but the butterfly offers us hope. After all, every year a new flower blooms from the tulip bulb.
New genre: flower still lifes
Shortly after 1600, flower still lifes emerged as a new genre in Dutch paintings featuring a bouquet of blooming flowers. Rare and exotic species were favourites, such as the tulip. With these, painters created impossible bouquets; in reality, the various flowers could never all bloom at the same time. 28th April 2023