Dutch Flowers: In conversation | Betsy Wieseman and Brian Capstick | The National Gallery, London

Dutch Flowers: In conversation | Betsy Wieseman and Brian Capstick | The National Gallery, London


Good afternoon and welcome. My name is Betsy Wieseman. I’m the curator of Dutch and Flemish
paintings here at the National Gallery. And I’ve had the wonderful privilege and very great pleasure of curating
this exhibition on ‘Dutch flowers’. And one of the greatest pleasures
in organising this exhibition was the opportunity to work
with the gentleman standing here, Brian Capstick. Brian and his wife Janice have collected,
over a number of years, a wonderful collection of Dutch
flower paintings of the 17th century. He has very graciously put a number of these paintings
on long-term loan to the gallery and they are featured in this exhibition. And also very graciously, Brian has agreed to engage
in conversation with me today, so that I can grill him a bit
about his collection, about the paintings in his collection and share that information with you. Thank you, Betsy, for such a generous
and charming introduction, yes. I await the third degree at your hands. I’ll be kind. I’ll be kind. Brian and I, we don’t
like each other at all, by the way. Let me just set that out. OK, my first question
is pretty straight-forward and that is, when did you start collecting
Dutch flower paintings, and why? Well, I began collecting Dutch
flower paintings about 25 years ago. “Why?” is a slightly
more complicated question. I guess I wanted to make a collection
of things that told a story, that had a narrative. And it could have been a narrative
that began in 1880 with impressionist paintings
going through into the modern period, or it could have been a narrative
as this is, beginning in about 1605
and ending 120 years later. And as it turned out,
I chose Dutch flower paintings. So you wanted to create a narrative, but had you been attracted to flowers or botany or horticulture prior to that? Was that a guiding reason? I’m sorry to say it wasn’t, no.
This was entirely a matter of chance. I picked up a book by a guy
called Laurence Bol called the Bosschaert Dynasty. And this was long before I had
any interest in collecting paintings or indeed ever expected
that I might one day be able to do so. So I read through this, and it told the story of how
Dutch flower paintings in the 17th century began with this Bosschaert and carried on through to the van Huysums
that we see here today. So there we are.
That’s what kindled the interest. And we have, I think,
from our own collection, not from yours, two paintings by Bosschaert
in the exhibition, one of which is the large painting
in the centre on that wall and then the one immediately
to the left of it. What was the first painting
that you bought? Do you remember? I do, yes. My first painting
wasn’t one painting. It was two. And that was the pair of paintings
by Beert, which sit next to… – Fabulous.
– …my Bosschaert, which is on the right. – So I am going to take that away one day.
– OK. You may. And if you can just look at those, they are actually
very unusual paintings for their time because most of the artists
that were painting around that time did very meticulous rendering,
so exactly what you were looking at. Their aim was to be
as true to life as possible. Beert didn’t really attempt that.
He thought, “Let’s have a go.” And you can sort of see
the bit of impressionist appearance – it’s those two paintings over there. And, for me, that struck a note,
it struck a chord. So that’s why I began. And, maybe having two in one purchase, that sort of already gave you
a little bit of a collection. It did, yes. One of the things I particularly love
about those Beert paintings is the fact that they still have survived
as a pair, as a set, which is very unusual. And also the fact that with Beert, you see him starting to try and get a sense of 3-dimensionality
in the paintings by highlighting the paintings in the front
and shadowing the ones to either side. So there’s a nice sense already in those
paintings of how the genre is developing. With those, what appealed to you about the Beert
paintings was the impressionistic quality, but what are the other qualities that you
might look for in a particular painting? Well, of course the reason why
this collection exists at all is to illustrate the development
of the art as it went along through the 17th century. And I’m interested in the way things
start, develop and then finish, mainly for biographical reasons. And in the beginning, the very early paintings
are mainly like illustrations, almost, of the various blooms, arranged in such a way
to look like they populate a vase. And they don’t really have
a 3-dimensional component to a great degree, whereas as the century went on,
they got much better at it. If you look at the Rachel Ruysch paintings
on our left here… Which are these two. She was very adept
at rendering these 3-dimensions and that’s one of the things
that they achieved as they went along. So as your flower paintings develop
over a century or so, it’s almost like a science –
they just get better at what they do. That’s interesting to me. That, I have to say,
was one of the great joys when I first visited you in your home to stand in a room
and literally be in the middle of the history of
17th century Dutch flower painting. It was just an absolute delight, which I’ve tried
to recreate here a little bit thanks to paintings from your collection. And one of the things that I’ve really
enjoyed about having the opportunity to integrate works
from your collection with ours is how they speak to each other and how the works that you’ve lent to us amplify our own collection
in really wonderful and dynamic ways. For example, this painting,
immediately to my side… – Left…
– I’ve a problem with left and right. …is by Rachel Ruysch,
as is the one next to it. This is from
the National Gallery’s collection and that one is from
the Capstick collection. Just to be able to see how the artist
develops over the course of her career between those two markers that we now have
is really, really amazing. And I’m forever grateful. She was a very productive lady. She continued to paint
until she was into her 80s, I believe. And she was also remarkable as a woman
of the 17th century and early 18th century because she was an independent artist. Although she was married, she went travelling throughout Europe
and worked as a court painter. – Yes, in Germany.
– In Germany, yes. Which is unbelievable
for the late 17th to early 18th century. Ladies were painted into a corner because they weren’t allowed
to paint the human figure. They weren’t allowed
to go to a life class because that might upset
their sensibilities. So still-life painting was OK. So that’s why she would have chosen that. There’s no danger with flowers. Now, back to the list of questions here… Do you have a particular favourite
painting in your collection? I suppose the one
that we’re standing in front of is probably everybody’s favourite. And this is a most unusual painting. It was painted somewhere
around the middle of the century, and you can see it is totally different
both in its conception and execution to pretty much all the others here. And, if somebody said,
“This is a 19th century painting that was painted in 1860,” you wouldn’t suddenly turn around and say,
“That’s impossible.” So it’s an idiom and a style
which is quite out of character with what led up to it
and what followed afterwards, so it’s an unusual painting. It is. It’s by Dirck de Bray, a Haarlem painter
from a family of painters. I think his father and brothers
and his uncle were also painters. He himself painted primarily still lives and as a comparatively young man… …entered a monastery, I believe,
as a lay brother. A number of his paintings have
a spiritual, Catholic dimension to them. But I think all of them have this wonderful
almost spookiness to them because they are so immediate,
so striking in their depiction. In addition to 19th century
impressionist works, they also make me think
of Spanish still lives in the starkness of it. And the monumentality, as well. The Spanish still-life painters – many of them took the same
rather low point of view, and what you end up with
is a much more massive appearance than you do if you take it higher up. Also, I think one thing that appeals to
viewers particularly about this painting is the informality of it. It’s not a careful arrangement like Bosschaert or de Heem do. This is a bunch of flowers stuck in a vase
as you or I might do. We go out into the garden and we pick
whatever looks beautiful and in bloom. We come back
and just put them in the vase and a few blossoms fall off, and a ladybird and bumblebee
have come in along with it. And we see that same wonderful immediacy
in this painting. Yes. I don’t think he set out
to paint in the tradition of anybody. I think he just wanted
to paint a flower picture and here it is. And I think the de Bray family
painted all sorts, didn’t they? – They did.
– They did portraits and what have you. Yes, it’s really a wonderful
diverse artistic dynasty. And I came by this picture by accident. I never have accidents like this. Well, it wasn’t that much of an accident, but the then director, some years ago,
of the Rijksmuseum was having dinner with a friend of mine, who told him that she had this friend
who collected flower paintings. “Oh,” he said. “He should go
and have a look at this de Bray.” The word got back to me
that this was the case, and then I did, and so here it is. That could very easily have been part
of somebody else’s collection. You could have begged off
that dinner party and somebody else
would have had the painting. Well, I’m glad you didn’t. Yes, it’s much sought after. Now, we’ve talked about
a particular favourite in your collection. Do you have
a particular favourite painting in the National Gallery’s collection? Oh, gosh. That I would nick off with? Perhaps we can do a swap. Well, I think possibly this Walscappelle
here on my right. This is a wonderful painting by him. It’s, I think, the most… …complicated painting
that I’ve seen of his. And you can see
these wonderful arabesques, these fabulous colours. And I think I’m right in saying that he
was a tutor to Rachel Ruysch, wasn’t he? – I think so, yes.
– I believe so. He was her tutor, in fact. Well, it’s interesting
that you picked that painting as the one which, I’m sorry I can’t allow
you to take away with you, because it’s actually thanks to you and the loan of the paintings
occasioning this exhibition that we took a second look
at that painting. And prior to the planning
for this exhibition, the painting had been obscured, really,
by a very discoloured varnish. The painting itself
is in an absolutely superb state. But we were looking at the painting, and also our framer came up with this amazing
17th century tortoiseshell frame. He said, “Look, I’ve got this great frame.
Do you have a painting it might fit?” And I said,
“Well, we have this flowers still life,” and we tried it. And I said, “That frame
makes the painting look kind of dingy.” So… …Morwenna Blewett,
who is one of our restorers, did a beautiful cleaning of this painting, and she said it was so easy,
that there was absolutely nothing to do, there was just dirty varnish. So, Brian, thanks to you, the National Gallery
has a whole new painting, I think. Thank you very much. – And that one…
– It’s a great one. Yes, it’s one of my favourites, too,
to look at because of all the little insects
crawling in and out, which is just amazing. Particularly, in the lower
left-hand corner of the arrangement, you can see a caterpillar
dangling from its bit of silk, which is just extraordinary. The fineness of that artistic detail… – Yes, I like these paintings.
– Yes. And I think you’d agree
that they do show to advantage by being exhibited alongside others
of the same genre. You get more out of them individually
because they’re in a crowd than you do
if it were just one amongst… Just like the bouquet of flowers itself. Exactly. Yes. Yes, exactly. As you’ve formed a collection
over 25 years or so, has your understanding of the field
of Dutch flower painting changed, evolved? Do you think differently about it now
than you did a couple of decades ago? It has certainly evolved because of course as you collect,
you study, and as you study, you learn more,
at least if you can remember it. Yes, I know a lot more about it
than when I began, that’s fair to say. What I do think about is many people
now collect modern paintings. Contemporary seems to rule the world. So you have to ask yourself, what is the role
of Dutch flower painting – what’s its relevance to the modern viewer? That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if you feel disposed to answer it. Well, it’s been interesting to me because when I proposed
doing this exhibition here, I thought, “Well,
it will appeal to some people,” but what’s really surprised me is how
amazingly popular the show has been. And if any of you
have been here more than once, you’ll know almost any time you come in,
it’s massively crowded in here, which is fantastic – we love that. But what has also interested me is the range of people who visit the show
and are interested in it – people who are primarily interested
in gardening or from a scientific point of view, or younger people who come in
and sometimes despite themselves find themselves intrigued
by these paintings and just pinpoint the bumblebee,
the ladybird, anything… But they realise that there is something
of interest in the paintings. And one project
that we did recently… They did an amazing reproduction
in flowers of the large Bosschaert painting outside on Trafalgar Square. And I don’t know if any of you
had the opportunity to see that, but that was, from my perspective, a really wonderful way of expressing
the beauty of these paintings in a very visceral sense. And I think that inspired a lot of people
who might not ordinarily have done so to come in and have a look
at the paintings themselves. So I think these paintings continue
to be very relevant to viewers today and in some respects,
perhaps more so than subject pictures. You don’t have to know biblical history
or mythology or obscure allegories to be able to fall in love with these. No, that’s true. And also I think that
they do technically meet modern painting to a greater degree
than you might at first think because of course… …even the most abstract
and modern painting – let’s take a Bridget Riley, for example – is just an arrangement of colours
and shapes to create a particular effect. And all the colours and shapes
in these flower paintings are of course not accidental. The artist has thought about them. And the shapes, too, are something
that have been carefully arranged to create an effect. Yes, I’m glad you brought that up, because that’s something that I think
people are only aware of subliminally – how the artists manipulate colour
and shape and form to really pull the arrangement together, and one painting that I always think of is
your painting by Rachel Ruysch, which has these markers, if you will,
of a beautiful salmon pink, and you see touches of it throughout. Even down here in the honeysuckle, she has brought in touches of that pink to unite that
with the rest of the composition. It’s subtle but it’s absolutely beautiful. So I think those formal lessons are something that people
can take away, as well. Yes. And that very painting
used to hang in a room which was next to a room, which had
a big Bridget Riley painting in it. And it was actually quite instructive
to look at these two together and turn over in your mind
how much things have changed and yet also
how little things have changed. That’s interesting to me. So we should add a Bridget Riley
to our collection. – I think you should, yes.
– OK. Thank you all very much for coming.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And thank you, Brian. May I say a big thank you to Betsy and her colleagues here
at the National Gallery for mounting this exhibition. I think it’s a perfect size and it does as good a job
as anybody could do of telling the story of flower painting
over this period, so congratulations and thank you
to you and your team.

Dereck Turner

6 thoughts on “Dutch Flowers: In conversation | Betsy Wieseman and Brian Capstick | The National Gallery, London

  1. ArtesVives says:

    love these talks but I wish the camera spent more time on the paintings (while they talk) and less on the people talking

  2. xyzllii says:

    Those 2 paintings over there…he says…and the camera does not move. Could you please get much more visual on these talks…about
    visuals…this is hopeless.

  3. Mariana Pinheiro says:

    It is perhaps not as remarkable as all that for wealthy ladies to have a great deal of time on their hands and all the freedom that goes with being rich. Unconventional, well–traveled, "liberated" ladies of leisure were common enough to constitute a recognizable type. It was among the lower classes who needed a job and a salary and society's approval to get both, that unconventional behavior was less typical.

  4. Mia Feigelson says:

    The long-term loan of Mr Brian Capstick's paintings to the National Gallery is such a great contribution to art lovers, thank you so very much ! Thanks for thing truly engaging lecture !

  5. DUUR-Dun. DUUR-Dun. Dundun Dundun Der-Der-Der-Derrr says:

    I want to listen to him.
    I also want to look at the paintings when he talks about them because they are beautiful.
    I'm sure you know that now in 2019.

  6. Angel Morales says:

    Mire ha mi y expongo lo sigiente sobre de Pintor Hoyente

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