On Tulips, Vanitas, and Collecting

The collector speaks.

The conversation moves on to a painting she has just bought. A bunch of tulips arranged in a crystal vase, their white petals streaked with yellow and pink. One of the petals has fallen off already onto the lace-trimmed tablecloth. A dewdrop glitters on it. A vanitas painting, the dealer called it, portraying the transience of life. In the background, on the same tablecloth, one can discern the shapes of an hourglass and a crumbled piece of bread.

The narrative voice is that of Catherine the Great in Eva Stachniak’s novel Empress of the Night.

I am reminded of the lovely plates in Anna Pavord’s The Tulip. In particular, the reproduction of the painting by Jean Michel Picart (1600-1682) in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. I learn that there is another Picart flower painting in the Fitzwilliam. Both have the motif of some petal or bloom fallen from the main bouquet to litter the tabletop. But perhaps the happiest trouvaille on the trail of tulips and vanitas is the art of Rachel Ruysch (1643-1706). Many of the paintings of massed flowers including sporty tulips attributed to Ruysch are to be found on Pinterest. One can be considered an anti-vanitas.

Flower painting by Rachel Ruysch

It has to one side of the main arrangement a little plug of primula and to the other side a nest with blue eggs. It unfortunately doesn’t appear in the list of works by Rachel Ruysch that are generally accepted as autograph by the Netherlands Institute for Art History in a listing graciously located on Wikipedia. There are other paintings with nests. Which leads me to recall Gay Bilson‘s cookbook Plenty: Digressions on Food which has pictures of nests she has collected and of which she says in an interview with Penelope Debelle “Nests have no value and are not found at auctions. This is one of the great pleasures of collecting them.”

Look at all this confusion of twigs my magpieing has assembled.

And so for day 1267
02.06.2010

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