Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill
This article considers the twenty-third work of twenty-five bought at Anderson & Garland Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 March 2017, lot 46 as Various Artists (British 19th Century) Sundry drawings and watercolours, mainly topographical and floral studies, including a grisaille “South Gate Lynn, Norfolk”, bearing the signature J.S. Cotman, various sizes, all unframed in a folio.
Here we look at the second of three flower drawings from a portfolio within the portfolio that once belonged to Sarah Parkin of Skirsgill, Cumbria. An essay in Romantic sentiment, certainly, but with much more content than I first suspected.This is a modest-sized but highly-detailed studio watercolour of a bouquet of flowers and foliage. There are four different flowers; a) a white flower, cistus ladanifer or Gum Rock Rose, b) a blue flower, convonvulus tricolore, or Dwarf Morning Glory, c) a chocolate and yellow striped tulip, ‘King Sovereign’, and 4) a pink cabbage rose, rosa centrifola bullata.
It is a little difficult to be sure what might be the correct orientation of the drawing. The inscription on the verso implies that the composition is landscape with the rock rose uppermost. In that alignment, the shadows are well balanced to either side and the deepest shade is at the bottom. In truth, however, one can view it almost any way up. The only orientation that does not work well is with the tulip uppermost. To my eyes both portrait orientations work almost equally well, but I prefer that with the rose uppermost. That seems to make the composition burst with vitality, and gives greatest prominence to the principal bloom. It also put the blue colour of the morning glory and its buds at the bottom, in a manner reminiscent of the blue ribbands with which bouquets were traditionally tied. We will look more closely at such a composition in our next instalment. Admitting that there remains quite a bit of room for doubt, I will stick with this orientation in what follows. In further support, I might add that this was the orientation chosen by Anderson and Garland, when they photographed the contents of the portfolio in 2017.
I have no claim whatsoever to any expertise in flower painting, or to flowers and their cultivation, but even a scattergun attempt to identify the flowers began to indicate the richness of the subject area.
To start with the largest and most obvious bloom in the bouquet. It looks like a pink cabbage. The website ‘whenyougarden.com’ explains:
Bright yet pastel pink radiates from the outside, growing darker towards the center. They grow to roughly 5 to 6-inches and have a full flower with a high petal count. Discovered in France in 1801 these historic roses are also known as Bullata Roses, or À Feuilles de Laitue. The petals are arranged in such a fashion that they closely resemble the form of a lettuce.
These shrubby, round roses are most often found in shades of pink, although white to dark red-purple Cabbage Roses are also less-commonly found. The name “Rosa Centifolia” means “the hundred petal rose” and this variety is marked by the distinctive, diverse and complex arrangements of petals found in the bloom of each cultivar, large or small.
The Historic Roses Group says
First developed by Dutch nurserymen in the late 16th century, Rosa centifolia was said to have more than 100 petals, and its rounded shape gave rise to its English name of the ‘Cabbage Rose’.
In John Gerard’s Herball (London 1597), it is also described as ‘The Great Holland Rose’ and ‘The Province Rose’ (from Provence, France, where it was extensively grown). R. centifolia is a complex hybrid, believed to be derived, in the main, from Gallica and Damask parents.
Seventeenth-century English portrait painters were fond of including Centifolia roses in their portraits as symbols of the beauty of their noble female sitters.
They were a particular favourite of the French painter Pierre Joseph Redoute (1759-1840). Known popularly as the ‘Raphael of Flowers’ he was the favourite of Empress Josephine. He is most famous for a series of watercolours Les Roses, published as coloured engravings in three volumes 1817-24. His prints are very highly sought after, and original works command huge prices. The two examples given here illustrate his quality.
It would certainly appear as if the artist of the present watercolour was trying very hard to emulate Redoute, and it is known that he trained a whole generation of followers.
To continue with the white flower to the right: In the absence of any better idea, I Googled ‘large white flower’, as a shot in the dark.
The first screen suggested that some more consider6ed terms might be required, but even a shot in the dark occasionally hits something worthwhile, and up popped up the very thing.
The website ‘tropicalbritain.co.uk’ describes it thus:
Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’ is a white-flowering cultivar of the very popular Cistus x purpureus, itself a hybrid cross between Cistus ladanifer and Cistus creticus. It has large, over-lapping pure white flowers with each petal having a dark maroon blotch and with each blotch abruptly turning lemon yellow near the inner centre. Yellow filaments holding orange anthers surround a prominent white stigma. It is an outstanding cultivar, producing flower after flower throughout the late spring and summer. It is extremely drought-resistant and is perfect for a hot, sunny or dry spot.
Cistus ladanifer is the wild root of this family, and grows around the southern Mediterranean, particularly in Portugal
There are late eighteenth and early nineteenth botanical illustrations of this, for example one from Germany in 1804
But the present specimen appears distinct with its corolla of stamens forming a tight ring not unlike an seventeenth century ruff around a pearl-like pistil. I have not managed to discover when the cultivar ‘Alan Fradd’ was first introduced. Perhaps greater expertise than mine will be able to identify the exact variety or cultivar.
To continue clockwise; even I could recognise the blue flower as a Morning Glory. It turns out, however, that there is a great number of different varieties and even species under this umbrella. Most have more solid colour than this specimen.
The only variety that I can find with the blue colour confined to a distinct ring around a broad white throat is convolvulus tricolore.
Wikipedia tells us that this is a wild flower native to the southern Mediterranean, but long cultivated for larger flowers and variations in intensity and shade of blue. Its defining characteristic is that each flower opens in the morning and lasts for one day only, which has lent it to a poetry of transience, renewal and optimism. The most common modern variety is ‘Royal Ensign’. The webshop Plant World Seeds has an image
but this is distinctly more cobalt blue than the present example, and produces a start-shaped burst of white, rather than the evenly feathered ring.
The late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century appears to have favoured a variety with a more Prussian blue tint, like that in the present watercolour.
Completing our journey around the bouquet, we arrive at a splendid gold and brown striped tulip. It took only a very little investigation to discover that such a thing is rather special.
The splendidly-named ‘plantlust.com’ says
Most people have never even seen a brown tulip, let alone grown one. Here’s your chance! 18th-century ‘Absalon’ is intricately patterned with swirling flames of dark chocolate and chestnut brown on gold. It’s a true broken tulip, a Dutch Bizarre from the Hortus Bulborum.
Tulipa ‘Absalon’ is a true broken tulip introduced in 1780 during the Dutch Golden Age and Tulipmania and preserved at the Hortus Bulborum. Richly coloured with feathers, flames or marbles of burgundy-brown, chocolate, and yellow, their patterning will be recognizable to those familiar with still life painting. It is part of the historical group Bizarre. Large hybrid tulips can be maintained in the garden if given a sunny location with rich soil.
The Hortus Bulborum is a very special garden at Limmen in North Holland that specialises in propagating rare varieties of tulip. Reading a little more about the striped or ‘broken’ varieties made me begin to appreciate why such varieties are so prized.
The Amsterdam Tulip Museum explains:
We have written extensively about the Tulip Breaking or “Mosaic” virus – which tends to split the colors of a Tulip into brilliant, flared patterns (see our article on this beautiful curse here). When a Tulip is infected with this virus, it typically weakens the bulb and leads to the breed dying out over time. That is what makes the Absalon, first registered in 1780, so impressive. Despite being infected, it has survived to this day, and can still be found for purchase by rare bulb sellers.
So viruses may be beneficial after all. Who would have thought it? Searching a little further it seems that that bloom depicted in the watercolour might be even more exceptional. It appears to be a particularly-prized English-bred variety. The website ‘oldhousegardens’ explains:
ROYAL SOVEREIGN 1820. This extraordinary tulip is considered the oldest surviving English florists’ tulip, having “first bloomed about 1820” according to tulip-breeder John Slater in his 1843 Descriptive Catalogue of Tulips. Richly patterned with mahogany-red on gold, it multiplies slowly and is very rarely offered today, even by us. Aka ‘Charles X’, ‘Defiance’, ‘Duke of Lancaster’, ‘Le Conquerant’, ‘Page’s George IV’, ‘Platoff’, ‘Victory’, and ‘Waterloo’. 16-18”, zones 4a-7b(8bWC), from the Hortus Bulborum. Last offered in 2015. If you’d like to be notified the next time we offer this treasure, sign up for an email alert.
It never ceases to amaze me how pictures can open onto whole worlds of unsuspected interest. One particularly splendid discovery was that the leading special-interest group in this area is based in my part of the world, West Yorkshire. The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society has a particular interest in English Florists Tulips. Their website is particularly informative. One thing I especially liked was the fact that they show their specimen blooms in brown beer bottles. I’ll look forward to attending one of their exhibitions once they are allowed to start up again.
We should now give some thought to the artist, the date, the recipient and the occasion. We have already observed the stylistic similarity to the work of the renowned French flower painter Pierre Joseph Redoute (1759-1840). I must confess that I had not previously heard of him, but it is quite plain that he is revered amongst collectors in this area.
We do not have a date for the present watercolour, but the inscription on the back says ‘about 1800’. The tulip suggests a slightly later date, sometime after its earliest known date of blooming of 1820, and the whole vignette presentation and sentiment suggests a date from then up to the early 1830s. Redoute was at that time the dominant force in the area, and internationally celebrated.
The present watercolour owes a great deal to him. In its close details it is extremely finely wrought. It is not Redoute himself, but it could easily be by one of his pupils. The treatment of the rose buds, with their delicate stippling and the use of yellow in the highlights of the leaves might well prove diagnostic to an expert.
The possible recipient is a little tricky. It is clear that the watercolour was once mounted. The mat has been roughly removed to reveal that it was glued down onto the drawing. We might assume that it was once framed, and that the frame and mat were discarded when the drawing was included in the portfolio. The fact that the mat was so roughly removed suggests that it was damaged, and from that we might surmise that it suffered in being itself removed from a frame. If it was framed then we can certainly eliminate it from ever forming part of either Miss Parkin’s portfolio or the main marbled Twopeny portfolio.
The other part of the inscription on the verso might have some significance in this perspective. The name ‘A.E.Messant’, if that is the correct reading, has not cropped up in any of my researches into the Twopenny connections, nor has the address ’10 New Court’. There must be several New Courts in the world, but the best perhaps the most likely is that in the City of London not far from the Mansion House and the Bank of England. The most famous resident was Nathan Mayer Rothschild who leased no.2 from 1809. The bank he built there is now a global corporation and its skyscraper office occupies most of the block.
It would seems most likely that the drawing remained framed during the lifetime of Gertrude Faux. She married the last of the Twopenys, Charles Dynely in 1921. He died in 1923 and she became the final custodian of Twopeny personalia. She lived in Hythe until 1954, and we have already speculated that the present portfolio originated with her. It is not impossible that the present watercolour hung on the walls of the house in Hythe, and after her death was stripped of its old mount and bundled up with the other drawings in this portfolio. Given the apparent date of the watercolour to the 1820s or 1830s Gertrude Faux cannot have been the original recipient. It is not impossible that it belonged to Sarah Parkin, or indeed to any one of the ladies involved with the Twopeny family.
Quite how this might have found its way to Gertrude Faux via any of the Twopeny or Parkin family routes is as yet unknowable, but it does seem more than likely that the watercolour was gifted with Romantic significance. In the language of flowers, there could hardly be a less subtle effusion than the cabbage rose. One dictionary describes it as the ‘Ambassador of Love’ and its shades of pink as signifying some or all of ‘Perfect Happiness, Secret Love, Sweetness, Indecision, Admiration, Perfect Love, Grace, Beauty, Believe Me, Thank You, Desire, Passion, Love of Life, Youth, Energy, Joy, Grace’. Quite a shower of sentiments, and that quite apart from those conveyed by the supporting cast. The same dictionary associates the Cistus flower with ‘popular favour’, suggesting gaiety and popularity: Morning Glory with ‘Affection, Affectation, Bonds of Love, Bonds, Departure, Greet(s) the New Day, Loves You’, and its habit of flowering for one day only lent itself to a poetry of transience and an injunction to seize the day. The Tulip associates with ‘Fame, Charity, Declaration of Love, Perfect Lover’, and the variegated tulip with ‘Beautiful Eyes, Your Eyes Are Beautiful, Enchantment, and There’s Sunshine in Your Smile’. Even if only a fraction of and of this was intended to be conveyed, it amounts to a quite an outburst. Not, one might reflect, the sort of declaration one would make if there was any doubt of embarrassment or rebuttal, or indeed the kind of message that anyone would want to receive unwontedly. The fact that it was kept suggests the affair ended well, and was remembered fondly.
TO BE CONTINUED:
Next, a more fragile bouquet.