The National Gallery celebrates spring with a display of paintings to explore the evolution of Dutch flower painting over the course of two centuries. 

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Flowers in a White Stone Vase, Dirck de Bray. Private Collection (c) Courtesy of owner. 

Through displaying twenty-two works by Netherlandish artists such as Jan Brueghel the Elder, the National Gallery reveals how at the turn of the 17th century artists were turning towards paintings that focused on flowers.

As is made clear in the introduction to the display, there were many reasons that this began to happen. One of the most solid reasons was down to the development of scientific interest in botany and horticulture at the end of the 16th century and the the establishment of botanical gardens in the Nertherlands.

There is real consistency in the work on display, many of which come from the gallery’s own collection and given a chance to shine. Pieces such as Roelandt Savery’s Flowers in a Glass are surprisingly understated, yet colourful to look at and to develop our own appreciation of nature and flowers.

Of course, because the nature of the paintings there is a real sense of repetitiveness when glancing at the paintings as a whole, but it is the way in which when looking closely at each individual work you get a sense of the detail and vividness of the flowers that makes piece individual.

Pieces such as Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder’s Flowers in a Glass Vase which every tiny detail and yet capturing a sense of the fragility of the flowers painted to great effect.

But it is also the colour and freshness of the paintings which really capture the attention as seen in Jan van Os’s Fruit,Flowers and a Fish which might appear more superficial in comparison to other paintings on display, but in a sense it is more positive in outlook towards flowers and nature, celebrating life to the full in comparison to others that are quite sombre.

Which is the problem with the display that claims to be celebrating Dutch flower painting – it is slightly too serious with the plum coloured walls and the dim lighting (even understanding the need to protect the paintings – it is difficult to appreciate them properly).

Yet despite this, it feels as though this display could actually be developed further into a proper exhibition and still be fascinating when put into context with the scientific developments taking place when these paintings were being created – detail that can’t be fully understood in this small but concise display.

Dutch Flowers is open to the public from the 6th April and runs until 29th August 2016. 

 

 

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