Room 17a

Dutch Flower Painting

Flower painting emerged as a distinct genre in the Netherlands around 1600. The rise of what became one of the most characteristic themes of Dutch art can be linked to several contemporary developments: a growing scientific interest in botany and horticulture, including the establishment of botanical gardens for academic study; and a booming international trade in exotic cultivars. In the 1630s, so-called ‘tulip mania’ saw speculative prices for the most coveted bulbs and flowering plants reach astonishing heights. Their value soon crashed, but the Dutch enchantment with flowers endured.

Jan Brueghel the Elder and Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder were amongst the first artists to paint pictures that exclusively depicted flowers. These early flower paintings feature flat, symmetrical arrangements of flowers from different seasons, with each prized specimen and adventuresome insect clearly visible. Later in the 17th century, artists like Jan Davidsz. de Heem and Rachel Ruysch ventured more relaxed bouquets, with asymmetrical rhythms, dramatic lighting, and even the most costly flowers overlapping to create a sense of depth.