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Work of the Week | 25 April 2022

CAG.1490 Mainie Jellett, Tulips, 1923, pencil on paper, 26 x 18.5 cm. Presented, 1993.


Tulips (1923) is a relatively simple observational sketch by Mainie Jellett – who was born in Dublin on 29 April 1897 – and may come as a surprise given its date.

While now synonymous with The Netherlands, tulips have their origins in the mountains of Central Asia. Their eventual appearance on the European market and in gardens across the world reflect a colonial history of plant hunting. They were also, infamously, at the centre of Tulpenmanie (tulip mania), a Dutch speculative economic bubble of the 1630s.

Dating to May 1923, Jellett’s pencil sketch was completed in the same year that the artist created and exhibited her pioneering abstract work, Decoration, in the Society of Dublin Painters group show. Now in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland, Decoration was the focus of much derision in The Irish Times, being labelled ‘an insoluble puzzle’ and ‘sub-human art’.

Nevertheless, Mainie Jellett (1897-1944) persisted with a strict form of analytic Cubism quite apart from her more observational Tulips sketch. Although the artist was to die young from pancreatic cancer, she would leave an indelible mark on Irish modern art.

Tulips (1923) by Mainie Jellett is currently featured in BOTANICA: The Art of Plants (Floor 1). Open daily | Free entry.

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