Maria Sibylla Merian, German artist and entomologist left for Suriname in 1699. There she made detailed drawings and paintings of the flora and fauna. She studied and illustrated the metamorphosis of a variety of caterpillars into butterflies or moths. She said that the Rothschildia moth had wings ‘like a piece of Moscow glass’ and sent some of the strong silk produced by their caterpillars to Amsterdam to encourage their breeding for silk.
This watercolour and bodycolour on vellum was probably arranged from specimens including mildly venomous snakes this adventurous woman brought back from Suriname. It was probably painted by Merian’s daughters.
I found these paintings interesting more because of their historical background than their craft. For me these are not the greatest of painters but they cast a light on both the Royals of the time (Part 2 to follow) and the attitude of the painters to the depiction of traditional themes. Whereas the Dutch in the previous exhibition, Dutch Artists in the Time of Vermeer, are happy to show the seamier side of domestic life, the poor in The Penny Wedding and Blind Man’s Buff by Sir David Wilkie show only innocent enjoyment. Similarly the paintings of the Spanish like his The Defence of Saragossa or El Paseo and The Dying Contrabandista (guerrilla) by John Philip are romanticised, unlike the dark images of Spanish painters themselves like Goya and Velasquez.
In which other country would you have the freedom to publish Thomas Rowlandson’s (1757-1827) scurrilous cartoons about the monarchy and members of the aristocracy?
Imagine the furore if you circulated prints showing the ruling elite in the toilet, looking stupid, caught in flagrante? And not only was Thomas Rowlandson able to publish his work but was actively encouraged by King George IV.
Another excellent exhibition but be warned – if you visit it after the Dutch Paintings in the Time of Vermeer and try to read all the fabulous remarks you will need a refreshing cup of tea in the café downstairs.
There are several great things about the Queen’s Gallery. The paintings and other exhibits are in excellent condition, the signage is clear and informative, and if you agree to have your ticket stamped to say than the fee is a charitable donation you can come back as many times as you like for one year.
There is only the one Vermeer (1632-1675) Lady at the Virginal with a Gentlemanshown in the flyer but several Rembrandt (1606-1669) portraits, royal portraits, indoor Dutch scenes with their slightly wicked suggestiveness and much more – drawings, etchings and a pair of flower vases.
This was the time of the Tulip Mania when rare tulip hybrids changed hands for thousands of Dutch guilders. Brought originally from the gardens of the Ottoman Empire the craze reached extraordinary levels before suddenly collapsing. Expensive blooms required expensive, elaborate vases.