From 2nd to 26th September 2020 at the Jonathan Cooper Gallery, established in Park Walk, London, UK, the leading botanical artist Fiona Strickland will be holding her second solo show. The exhibition, which will feature 18 paintings and will be the artist’s first since 2016, is dedicated to the vibrant and fragile beauty of the tulip, portrayed in the challenging medium of watercolour on vellum.
Strickland has long been drawn to tulips as a subject, fìnding their colour, shape, and form visually engaging, and the history of their depiction in art intellectually fascinating. Among the artistic inspirations for this body of work is the seventeenth-century Tulip Book of Dutch painter Jacob Marrel, which Strickland travelled to the Rijksmuseum to study at close-hand in 2016. Exploring the subject of the tulip, so integral to the history of Dutch art, also allows the artist to reconnect with her own ancestral heritage, and it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that her grandmother, who moved to Scotland from the Netherlands as a child, was a marvelous gardener who instilled a love of plants in the young Strickland by allowing her to visit the sanctuary of her tulip-fìlled greenhouse. Another important artistic influence for Strickland is Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, under whom she studied at Edinburgh College of Art, and whose freedom of expression in the depiction of tulips she particularly admires. No artist painting the tulip today could do so without acknowledging the revolutionary impact of Rory McEwen (1932 – 1982) upon botanical art in the twentieth and twenty-fìrst centuries. Strickland first saw McEwen’s work as a student in Edinburgh, and in this exhibition embraces the challenge of depicting a subject that has become so deeply linked to his legacy, seeking to observe it anew and fìnd personal meaning in it. Many of the tulips depicted in the exhibition are English Florists’ Tulips grown by the Wakefìeld and North of England Tulip Society, the only association of its kind to have survived from the nineteenth century to the present day, of which Rory McEwen was a patron. Like McEwen, having learned of the Society and joined it, Strickland was gifted prize-winning tulips from the Society’s annual show to depict. After capturing these perfect specimens in watercolour at the height of their beauty, she could not bear not part with them, and has preserved their dried forms in her studio. Among the specimens depicted in the exhibition is the Tulipa ‘Rory McEwen ‘, a Bybloemen Flame tulip that was named in McEwen’ s honour. It is particularly fitting that Strickland has depicted the flower on a piece of McEwen’ s own sheets of Kelmscott vellum, which were gifted to The Hunt Institute of Botanical Art by McEwen’s family following his death in 1982. Strickland is among the few botanical artists to be given a sheet of this vellum by the Institute. Strickland first began experimenting with watercolour on vellum as a medium in 2015. Although technically challenging as a surface, it has become her favoured support due to the translucent quality with which it imbues her works. Painting meticulously and slowly, she applies the most transparent rating of watercolour paint using a ‘dry brush’ technique, layering subtly different shades to suggest variations in temperature and tone. In her choice of subject Strickland aims to inspire an emotive response, and a feeling of connection with the viewer. Often depicting flowers from an unusual viewpoint or at turning points in their life cyde, her paintings act as portraits of an individual flower, rather than scientific depictions representative of a species. The small scale of her works, their jewel-like application of paint, and the use of vellum as a support connects them with the tradition of portrait miniatures, suffusing them with a sense of intimacy and preciousness.