I have studied Golden Age Dutch Floral Painters in the past and Rachel Ruysch (1664 – 1750) was one of my favourite painters. Not only did she paint extremely well, she had ten children. How can one paint so exquisitely and go through 10 pregnancies and raise so many children, is beyond me.
Her dated works establish that she painted from the age of 15 until she was 86, a few years before her death. She had household help, which she could afford because she was a well-paid artist (another remarkable fact) and painted, before her death at the age of 86, hundreds of paintings. But I wasn’t planning on writing about my role model, I wanted to point out that Dutch floral paintings are an illusion. We tend to overlook this because we can buy lush bouquets at our local supermarkets year-round and lack knowledge about when plants bloom and where they come from. We care little about seasonal vegetables and fruits; we also have not much knowledge about where our veggies and fruits come unless we study supermarket labels saying ‘Olives from Italy’ or ‘Persimmons from Israel’.
Sketches as reference photos
Golden Age floral painters studied flowers by making meticulous sketches and writing down which colours they needed. Upon designing a large floral bouquet, they returned to their notebooks and sketches. This way they were able to put together flowers that in nature do not bloom or flourish at the same time, or at the same place, and adding seasonal butterflies and insects, showing spring, summer and autumn in one painting. How easy it is now to consult a book or photo and put together flowers from all over the world, flowers that naturally never bloom simultaneously.
The difference between the Golden Age and now is that vegetables, fruits and flowers that are flown in aren’t good for keeping a low carbon footprint. Golden Age painters created illusions and prosperous bouquets not with the help of cargo trucks, cool cells or air crafts, but with their own notes and sketches. Isn’t that wonderful? Imagine a studio with sketches. Imagine the deep focus that comes with using your sketches as a reference portfolio. Having no digital assistance did not prevent painters to paint the most wonderful, detailed and beautiful paintings.
In my hometown of Utrecht, on two Rococo houses alongside the ‘Nieuwe Gracht’, stands Hercules holding the sky onto his shoulders. The ancient story goes that Hercules has taken up the firmament for Atlas allowing the old Titan a brief moment of respite to take up one of his labours.
I had to correct Hercules’ legs because all reference photos are taken from street level, and Hercules stands on top of a four story house, and it therefore the statute showed too short legs. I’ve elongated Hercules’ legs to create a level frontal view.
Hercules looks strong, but he is a demigod and demigods can do things we mortals can not. Yet, the maker of this statute, the Dutch sculptor Ton Mooy, has given Hercules a tormented expression.
I kept wondering why I like this Hercules. When I was about to draw his hair and face, I remembered. I had seen this kind of hair and facial expression before. Hercules has the same hair as Vercingetorix (see photo) and a similar tormented expression as the statute of the Dying Gaul (see photo), an Ancient Roman Hellenistic sculpture. There is beauty in showing that extraordinary strength and bravery often comes with pain.
Hercules Utrecht Statute by Ton Mooy, drawing by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Herculus in Utrecht City Centre, drawing by Paula Kuitenbrouwer, Statute by Ton Mooij.
Herculus/Aardkloot/Nieuwe Gracht Utrecht by Ton Mooy
This is a large graphite drawing (about the size of A3) beautifully and softly rendered, titled ‘Praising Plants’. I have set up this drawing as a way to show gratitude towards (house) plants. They provide us with oxygen, hence the text ‘Thank Your for your O2,’ a word rhyme that names oxygen by its element. Instead of drawing plants in pots, I have used a frame decorated with Ginkgo leaves. These leaves are found near Ginkgo trees, often in growing in botanical gardens or in Asian cities. Inside the border, I have added two plant motifs, Acanthus and Pimpernel Bay-leaf Manilla, inspired by William Morris, a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. The two other plant motifs are designed by me; Bamboo and Lotus flower.
One should see this drawing as a garden, as a local botanical garden in which one can deeply relax and become thankful for what plants do for us. Not only do they provide us with oxygen, but also with soul nourishment and above all, with beauty. Frame this drawing and feel inspired by what plants mean for us and how they can enchant us with their intricate patterns. I sell this original and there are no copies available. This makes this drawing unique gift.