During one of several periods living and painting in Paris, I was gazing in awe at the ravishing window display of one of those impossibly glamorous, and unforgettably chic florists that contribute nothing but beauty to the more expensive boulevards when my eye was stopped in its tracks by a vase containing riotously coloured tulips. I assumed they would require a week’s budget to become mine, but the lovely assistant took a quick, discreet and generous view of me and virtually gave them to me.“ AAH, merci, merci, monsieur !” “Non, merci a vous madame !” Tulips as huge, frilled and feathered as this are known as parrot tulips for obvious reasons. They clearly have Triumph tulips in their recent, hybridised past, but their ancient ancestors graced – and sometimes still do – large areas of countries which border the Mediterranean, form part of the Middle East and parts of the Ukraine. But their centres of diversity are further east still, in the Tien Shan mountains and the Hindu Kush.
Climbing the stairs to my studio with these completely over-the-top and utterly irresistible trophies, I watched them continuing to unfurl as I plunged them into a glass of water and wasn’t really surprised when they arranged themselves in such perfect harmony that all I needed to do was select the most intense watercolours I could find and paint them. They exuded joyous abandon – each colour scheme unique but complimentary. They even managed to communicate all this to me so forcefully that I felt none of the usual angst as to whether or not I could do them justice. The whole time I was painting them all I felt was my own joyous abandon. © Frances Livingstone 2018