Wednesday, May 11, 2016

1600s Watercolors of Tulips by Alexander Marshall (1639-1682)

 Alexander Marshall (1639-1682) 

Alexander Marshal was by profession a British merchant, who had lived for some time in France, but he was also a respected botanist & entomologist, described by Samuel Hartlib as "one of the greatest Florists and dealers for all manner of Roots Plants and seeds from the Indies and else where" (Leith-Ross, p. 7).

 Alexander Marshall (1639-1682) 

He created at least 4 albums of drawings of flowers & insects: the one from which the present works are taken, possibly his earliest; A Book of Mr Tradescant's choicest Flowers and Plants, exquisitely limned in vellum from the 1640s (recorded in the catalog of the Musaeum Tradescantianum in 1656, but now lost); the Windsor Florilegium (cats. 45, 47, 48); & a volume of 63 folios of insect studies (now Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences). He collected & made observations on insects & the art of drawing them & in the Bishop of London's garden at Fulham, where he resided for a time, he planted cedars of Lebanon &  raised exotic plants including a Guernsey Lily sent to him in 1659 by his friend General Lambert. The Bishop was Henry Compton (1632-1713), one of the most active horticulturalists of his day & for a time religious instructor to Princesses Mary & Anne.

 Alexander Marshall (1639-1682) 

'A new Man of Experiments and Art' (Hartlib, in Leith-Ross, p. 7), Marshal experimented with colors from plants throughout his life, & the Royal Society approached him for his recipes soon after their foundation. In his reply in 1667, he gave one or two examples but apologized for not giving more, because not only were the recipes constantly changing, but, echoing the reasoning of John Evelyn & others, he wrote: "The truth is, they are pretty secrets, but known, they are nothing. Several have been at me to know, how; as if they were but trifles, and not worth secrecy. To part with them as yet I desire to be excused."(Leith-Ross, p. 12-13) 

The drawings at Windsor contain unusual colors &, kept in an album, they are still fresh. Unfortunately the group of 33 on vellum in the British Museum must have been exhibited, once they were removed from the album in which they came to the Museum in 1878...

 Alexander Marshall (1639-1682) 

A number of the flowers depicted were relatively new to northern Europe in the 17th century...A large number of the flowers Marshall depicted were tulips, including 'Parrot' tulips, broken tulips with irregular edges, which came into cultivation shortly after the Restoration. 

Alexander Marshall (1639-1682) 

The bouquet motif, usually a random mixture of flowers intertwined or loosely tied with a ribbon, frequently appeared in floral pattern books whose primary purpose was for designers or decorators of textiles & china. It also appeared in botanical books with primarily decorative intent & was therefore an apt one for use in florilegia. It was used by Nicolas Robert (1614-85) & other artists in their botanical portraits on vellum painted for the King of France. 

Marshal was resident for some time in France, where he may have seen their work. In the 18th century, Ehret employed the motif frequently throughout his career, having seen the French works on a visit to Paris in 1734-5. Marshal did not use it in his most famous work, the Windsor Florilegium, where nearly all the watercolors are on paper, but he did use it for the above series from the 33 at the British Museum, all watercolor on vellum.

From the British Museum

John Fisher and Jane Roberts, 'Mr Marshal's Flower Album from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle', London 1985, passim; 
P. Leith-Ross and H. McBurney, 'The Florilegium of Alexander Marshall at Windsor Castle', 2000, pp. 7, 21, 24-8 and Appendix C

A few 1600s portraits of women with status symbol tulips...

Gilbert Jackson [English Baroque Era Painter, active 1621-1642] A Lady of the Grenville Family with Tulips in her Hair and her Son

Tulip mania or tulipomania was a brief period, beginning about 1620 & climaxing 1636-1637, in the Dutch Golden Age during which contract prices for bulbs of recently introduced tulips reached extraordinarily high levels & then suddenly collapsed.

 Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) Lady Jane Goodwin

Tulips became luxury goods for wealthy Dutch families. These bulbs, originally imported from Ottoman Turkey, became an important commodity. 

Gilbert Jackson [English Baroque Era Painter, active 1621-1642] Portrait of a Lady with a Lace Collar Holding a Tulip

The bulbs not only became a required addition to the elaborate Dutch formal gardens of the period, but also became the subject of intense botanical experiments attempting to create new varieties. The new & rare were prized. 

 Christine de Bade-Durlach (1645-1705), ├ępouse en 1665 Albert II de Brandebourg-Ansbach

At the peak of tulip mania, in March 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10x the annual income of a skilled craftsman. This economic phase & collapse is generally considered the one of 1st recorded speculative economic bubbles.