The Mauritshuis buys a painting by Balthasar van der Ast

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4/5/23 - Acquisition - The Hague, Mauritshuis - In the 1620s and 1630s, a tulip epidemic swept through the northern part of the United Provinces, driving up prices beyond measure and leading to the "tulip crisis" in 1637. Among the most popular species, the so-called "broken" tulip, which has endured to this day, has petals adorned with flames. Born because of (or thanks to) a phytovirus that "broke" the monochromaticity of the flower, it was rare and therefore expensive.
Tulips were first represented in scientific works. Charles de L’Ecluse - also called Carolus Clusius - was one of the most famous botanists of the late 16th century. Born in Arras and based in Leiden, he was the author of numerous works, notably on exotic species, animals and plants, created one of the first botanical gardens in Europe and is considered to be the one who spread the tulip in the country. But flowers were not only described by and for botanists.

In painting, the still life became a genre in its own right in the 17th century and the tulip took more and more space in opulent bouquets of species that did not necessarily grow at the same time. Among the flower painters, Balthasar van der Ast, born in Middelburg in the southern Netherlands, trained with his brother-in-law, Ambrosius Bosschaert, and then joined the Guild of Saint Luke in Utrecht in 1619. There he rubbed shoulders with Roelandt Savery and came under his influence. In 1632 he finally settled in Delft where he lived and worked until his death.

Balthasar van der Ast (1593/94 - 1657)
Vase with a single tulip, circa 1625
Oil on panel - 26.5 x 20 cm
The Hague, Mauritshuis
Photo: Mauritshuis
See the image in its page

One of his paintings was acquired by the Mauritshuis in The Hague from a private collector with the help of the VriendenLoterij. The artist, exceptionally, has chosen to represent only one tulip. Many of Balthasar van der Ast’s drawings and watercolors detail individual flowers, but it is much rarer and bolder to choose only one for a painted composition. Placed in a small transparent vase with golden edges, it stands out against a dark background; it is a broken tulip called Zomerschoon, decorated with red streaks on white petals. It is both precious and fragile, condemned to wither all the faster because it has been cut; this is what the fly, symbol of death, reminds us of, while the butterfly embodies resurrection and announces that the flowers will grow again.

The painting reported in the 18th century in the collection of Johan van der Linden van Slingelandt had been presented in the exhibition that the Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen had dedicated to the painter in 2016, entitled "More beautiful than nature: the Still Lifes of Balthasar van der Ast". It was also loaned for the 2022 exhibition, "Full Bloom," at the Mauritshuis. 
It joins several works by van der Ast in the collections, including a bouquet painted again in the style of Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, with carefully balanced flowers and colors. Later, the painter moved toward more natural compositions. He also painted sets of shells, fruits and flowers on entablatures. The Boston Museum acquired several works by him that show the diversity of his production (see brief of 11/2/19). The artist played a role in the evolution of Dutch still life painting, influencing in particular Jan Davidsz de Heem, then Jan van Huysum.
Finally, Roelandt Savery will be honored in an exhibition in 2024 at the Muritshuis. 

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