When La Culture des Tulipes (Private Collection, illustrated) was exhibited at the 1887 Paris Salon, it received such generous accolades and reviews that it immediately solidified the reputation of American expatriate artist George Hitchcock. Master Academician Jean-Léon Gérôme praised it as the "best American picture of the year" and an American collector who had not yet seen the painting firsthand immediately cabled Paris to purchase it. An active participant in the salons of Europe, Hitchcock repeated the subject two years later in the present version of Tulip Culture, which was likely exhibited at London's Royal Academy in 1890.
In spite of Hitchcock's training in such academic strongholds as the Académie Julian and the Dusseldorf Academy, he adopted a painterly style which incorporated the contemporary Impressionist's penchant for high-keyed color and their interest in the representation of light. Paintings such as Tulip Culture would eventually inspire critic Christian Brinton to refer to Hitchcock as the "painter of sunlight." Despite the gray weather often associated with Holland, Hitchcock considered its landscape "most paintable" and wrote a series of articles for Scribner's Magazine entitled "The Picturesque Quality of Holland" intended to introduce American audiences to the country. In his first article he wrote, "Grant that which in itself which is simply ugly, placed here, under the proper conditions, it would be possible to make an agreeable picture of it, so strong and far-reaching are the tone and atmospheric effects of this most favored land" (Scribner's Magazine, no. 2, August 1887, p. 168).
As a colorist, Hitchcock reveled in the unique artistic opportunities presented by Holland's striated fields brilliant flower blooms, and following the success of his salon entries in the late 1880s, bright bands of vivid color became ubiquitous elements in Hitchcock's compositions. He romanticized the Dutch peasant's seemingly unchanged way of life since the heyday of 17th century tulip-mania and frequently included models dressed in traditional regional costumes, gathering flowers for market. He wrote in his Scribner's article, "The colors of the large fields of hyacinths and tulips in the spring give a variety and opulence of primaries to any but a skillful colorist, and yet made quite paintable by the exceedingly harmonious atmosphere. When grown in large fields in the open, this array of color is, perhaps, a little strong; but when a smaller field of purple hyacinths or yellow tulips is enclosed in the heart of a small village, softened by subtle tree-shadows, and tempered by the reds in the houses, it is more than agreeable" (Scribner's Magazine, p. 167).
Hitchcock came to art late in his life, initially attending Brown and Harvard Universities to obtain a law degree, but quickly realized this was not to be his life's vocation. He traveled to Europe in 1879 and studied with such notable masters as Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre. After studying with Hendrick Willem Mesdag at The Hague, he was the first American artist to settle in Holland, establishing a studio in the Dutch town of Egmond aan Zee. Gari Melchers joined him there in 1884 and an art colony soon sprung up around them. Though Hitchcock spent the winter in France, he maintained a studio in Holland for the rest of his life.
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