When I was a little girl, I loved to draw all day long! As children often do, I returned to the same theme time and time again – the clouds and the sun, a simple house, a stick figure child with her dog and three tulips growing on the side of the house. Those simple shapes and their ease appealed to my budding artistic eye and they were a comfort to me. A version of this drawing went on for years in my artwork (my mom even saved a few for posterity…HA!) and it always included my beloved tulips (perhaps this was the beginning of my tulip fever!).
Fast forward to adulthood and they are still an absolute favorite flower of mine! An image of a single tulip I photographed graces the cover of my book, Flowers (and is the longest chapter in that book as well!). I return to them often as subjects to paint because of their visual complexity, elegance, movement and versatility. I was even given the opportunity to paint a label for a high-end wine produced by a friend and what did I choose? A tulip, of course! What better way to honor the long, graceful lines of the wine bottle than with this lithe counterpart.
This project appealed to me visually, as well as on a taste level. This rare and refined 2010 Fumanelli Amarone “Carolyne Roehm” is available at vinporter.com. This was the idea of our gracious friend, Armando Fumanelli, owner of the family winery Marchesi Fumanelli, who intended this to be a wine shared on very special occasions with loved ones.
When I first moved to Connecticut, I was so excited to plant my first bed of tulips. Little did I realize, the 300 bulbs I initially planted were barely enough to make a visual impact! Another lesson I learned (the hard way, I might add) is to plant them in a protected spot. Just as my first tulips were about to bloom, the dreaded deer ravaged their heads as a snack. I was devastated (and I learned to embrace the daffodils, which the deer don’t really like!).
As I delved into the world of choosing tulips, the simplicity of my hand-drawn tulips were quickly replaced with an enormous world of possibilities. Now the varieties are vast and dynamic and there is amazing range in color, shape and texture. With their painterly strokes of captivating color, their fringes and their layers, they have emerged as one of the most diverse of flowers. I once called tulips the “graphic arts of the flower world” for their boldness in color and varieties in form. A vase full of vibrant, robust peony tulips is as close to perfection as I can imagine.
Originally cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey), tulips were a sign of wealth and power. The name tulip comes from the Persian word for turban because sultans would wear them on their turbans as a symbol of strength.
In the late 1590’s, pioneering botanist Carolus Clusius was one of the first in his field to write extensively about the tulip. This intensified their popularity. Because they were rare and incredibly difficult to procure, a “feverish” desperation to obtain them took hold of flower lovers. His personal garden was often looted for its tulip bulbs (now that’s a theft I can get behind!).
Tulips were brought to the Netherlands in the 16th century. By the 17th century their popularity reached incredible heights. From 1636-1637, the entire Dutch society went mad for tulips (a period appropriately coined “Tulip Mania”). Citizens spent up to a year’s salary to obtain exotic tulips in the hopes that they could be sold for profit. Everyone was in on the hysteria, from noblemen to chimney sweeps. In 1637, the bubble burst, spiraling the Dutch economy into ruin. Modern economists have challenged the veracity of this story and some think it took its place in history because it was just a really “great story” that was embellished. Flowers as currency does make for quite a tale!
My love of tulips (and birds!) has inspired me to return to them frequently as themes in my paintings and experiment with different pairings of subjects. These are available for sale as high-quality art prints on my website (carolyneroehm.com).
Tulips have taken their place as a beloved flower around the world. They are the subject of countless renowned paintings and people gather every year to celebrate them in festivals across the globe.
It is Dickens who wrote, “Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress”. So sadly, just like that, it’s time to say goodbye to our beautiful tulips.
But here at Weatherstone, we are anxiously awaiting the peonies next, so stay tuned!