Tulips for Easter

07 Apr 2020

By Guy Peploe, March 2020

S.J. Peploe

Tulips for Easter
S.J. Peploe, Tulips & Fruit, c. 1919 Private Collection

Flowers, how wonderful they are: I have a bunch of tulips, so gay, of so many colours: orange, pink, different pinks, a strange one – pure brick red – which is my favourite; so sensitive to warmth; the tulip with the strange hot smell which seems to stir deep memories, long-forgotten cities in a desert of sand, blazing sky, sun that is a torment; mauve ones, cool and insensitive. Living their closed, unrevealed life; unexposed, but keeping their beauty of form till the very end, longest of all, dark ones, opening and closing in slow rhythm.

S.J. Peploe, 1935

So wrote Sam Peploe musing on the attractions of tulips. The associations for him are exotic, even mystical though in his tulip painting of 1918 entitled Study, Volume Depth his concerns were more formal. The tulips while conventionally gorgeous are also flattened, their heads compositional components, their stems providing sinuous rhythms across the picture plane.

View The Scottish Colourists here

Derrick Guild & William Crosbie

Tulips for Easter
Derrick Guild, Fever Repeat, 2016

View the work of Derrick Guild here

Apart from the rose no other flower has been so sought by painter and poet for inspiration. The tulip’s origin in the west stems from embassies to the Ottoman Court in the sixteenth century and a hundred years later Dutch tulip fever provided a perfect example of human obsession and greed. The Dutch painters included the most exotic examples, including those variegated produced by chance after a bulb infection: impossible collections of blooms, symbolically loaded, perfectly rendered using optical aids and single haired brushes. Issues of fragility, the exotic and human folly were revisited by Rory McEwan in the seventies and by Derrick Guild in his recent exhibitions with The Gallery, deploying the tulip as a potent symbol carrier.

In Christianity tulips symbolise passion, belief and love: white for forgiveness and purple for royalty, both important aspects of the Easter celebration and it is at Easter they come into bloom. In a studio interior photograph used as the cover for our current catalogue Bill Crosbie sits forward with his direct, self-confident gaze while next to him, on the easel, is a monumental painting of tulips. The upright form, flowers tall in a long jug, is the moment before the stems reach out in curiosity. Elsewhere in the portrait of his wife Anne, Seated Pink Lady a conventional portrait is subverted by the still-life on the round table in front where a Rousseauesque pattern of foliage disembodies her hands; the small tulip heads, proud buds, are the brilliant focus of the painting.

Tulips for Easter
William Crosbie in his Ruskin Lane Studio, Glasgow, c.1950
Tulips for Easter
William Crosbie, Seated Pink Lady, 1988, oil on canvas, 91 x 71 cm

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Elizabeth Blackadder & Christine McArthur

Elizabeth Blackadder is a passionate plantswoman and the bounty of a long cherished garden provide much of her subject matter over the seasons. She has travelled as far as Indonesia to study and draw the orchid but the tulips from the garden are perhaps her subject of greatest comfort. Sometimes the flowers are arrayed conventionally, as if for the botanist's satisfaction; other times their stems bring the blooms from a vase beyond the painted subject and a cat brushes past a delicate water-jug carrying its exotic parrot-tulips. For another artist, Christine McArthur, more like Peploe, the shape and colour will be borrowed from the flower which in collage and paint is subsumed into a more abstract composition.

Tulips for Easter
Elizabeth Blackadder, Irises, Lillies, Tulips, 2013, coloured etching, 37 x 41.5 cm

View the original work of Elizabeth Blackadder here and her prints here

Tulips for Easter
Christine McArthur, Owing to the weather, I painted tulips, 2019, mixed media on panel, 75 x 100.5 cm

View the work of Christine McArthur here

Tulips for Easter
Gallery Tulips, 2020
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