Saturday, 19 April 2014

More Frits.... Big Bold Crown Imperialis

It's a week today since I returned from exhibiting the Fritillaria meleagris paintings at the RHS London Orchid show. I was dying to get home to paint the much larger Fritillaria imperialis, a plant that I've always wanted to paint but one which just refused to flower in my garden in Scotland. This year I found some at the Trentham Gardens Estate and brought three home..... Makes a change to be painting such big bold flowers!
First flower head study, Fritillaria imperialis 'Rubra' finished on Thursday this week.

First up was the enormous orange F. imperialis 'Rubra',  but I also have a smaller 'Aurora' and the large yellow 'Lutea'. I started with 'Rubra' because it looked like the one most likely to go over first. It's quite red so I used a mix of Transparent Yellow and Scarlet Lake with the bias towards red/orange, then added Permanent Carmine for the deeper reds, I added some Violet Dioxide for the darker shadows. A little Cobalt Violet was used around the highlighted areas. The flowers become more red as they age, so this was something to keep an eye on.  Where the light shines through the petals at the back I kept the mix more yellow biased and light. On the left side of the flower (shade side) the red was deeper. 
The flowers are fairly simple to draw, they have huge nectaries which give the familiar 'square shouldered' look on the also seen in the F. meleagris flowers.

First washes

The flower interior, showing the reproductive parts and large nectaries. 
I want to paint all three plants if possible, but they were already in bud when I left for London and in full bloom when I returned, so I have to work fast on this project! The flower-heads need of all three need to be painted first because they don't last all that long, maybe a week or so. There's much more time with the leaves so I'll work on them later. I take lots of photograph from all aspects and make many drawings, the aim - to gather as much reference as possible! The initial position of this plant is very tall and upright but I chose to paint them as they lean over with the weight of the flowers and crown.

This is how the 'Rubra' the plant looked before I left for London

Having completed the first study of ' Rubra', I sat outdoors yesterday (17th April) and made rough drawings of  the yellow 'Lutea'. You can't beat the light outside for drawing and it was a beautiful day! also these plants have a very strong 'foxy' odour so outdoor working is good!

Drawing of F. imperialis 'Lutea'  made on Saturday 17th April
Yellow flowers aren't my favourite but this crown is a good shape with lots of flowers and more twists and turns in the crown leaves than 'Rubra' so today I'll paint it and see how it goes. It doesn't have the same interesting dark stem as 'Rubra' and 'Aurora' plants but it is still very impressive. 
'Lutea' in bud and starting to open. The yellow becomes much richer as the flowers fully open.

 This morning I started laying the first washes for the 'Lutea' painting but have to stop for a while while people come to view the house, which is very disruptive! This plant smells so bad it wasn't really possible to have it in the house while people are wandering around! I'm using the following colours: Cadmium Lemon, Winsor Yellow, Transparent Yellow and New Gamboge. Adding a very little Violet dioxide for the shade colours and a small amount of scarlet lake for the warmest yellows, I put it the shade colours first because this is a light flower and it helps to build form early on in the painting. I used combinations of the warmer yellows on the shade side and the cooler yellows  where the light hits the flower ( on the right) will resume shortly.    

First washes on the flowers for 'Lutea'
More work, layering the yellow washes and adding the greens (update 20th April).

About the plant.

Fritillarias are all members if the Liliaceae family. F. imperialis is architecturally grand looking and the cultivated varieties I have are all derived from the species, the plant is more commonly known as the Crown Imperial or Kaiser's Crown in reference to the crown like top. It's native habitat is from Anatolia in Turkey and Iraq across the plateau to Iran up to Afghanistan and Pakistan, so covers a fairly wide geographic area. 
The plant was initially called the Turkish Fritillaria being introduced from Turkey to Vienna in the 1570's, as part if the first major introduction of of plants from the Turkish Empire to Western Europe. Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador to Constantinople was the first to recognise the wealth of botanical specimens available from the Turkish empire in the mid 1500's and he sent bulbs of F. imperialis and other species to his friend Carolus Clusius (Charles de Ecluse) in Vienna, Clusius circulated the bulbs throughout Europe and took them to Leiden when he moved there.
Doctor and Botanist, Clusius, distributed the bulbs of F. imperialis around Europe in the mid to late 1500's. Public domain Wikimedia Creative Commons

The name, 'Crown' imperialis was added as an association with the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. It was the first plant featured in Sydney Parkinson's Patadise Terrestris in 1629, he wrote: The Crown Imperialis has the stately beautifulness, deserveth the first place in this our Garden of Delight'. Parkinson was aware of only one form but believed there was also a white form. The plant became hugely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and at that time there were over a dozen varieties, including a variegated leaved vy of these have now died out but today they are popular again with several varieties available.
There are many paintings of F. imperialis, I found this beautiful illustration by the incredible Hendrik Reekers, painted in 1837,  not sure which variety this is but I this is one of my favourites! 

Hendrick Reekers, oil painting  of F. imperialis cultivar unknown Public domain Wikimedia Creative Commons
As a slight aside, I also painted another Frit this week, F. uva-vulpis. This one was for the Nature Sketchbook Exchange's the Frit alongside a two coloured Muscari. Sorry not a great photo but thought I'd share it all the same.
F. uva-vulpis painted for the Nature Sketchbook exchange, will be on it's way to the Netherlands on Tuesday morning

......More on 'Lutea' later


  1. Your painting is a real beauty, as are the initial studies! Lovely work and interesting to read about the plants too. Looking forward to seeing the yellow one finished.

  2. Thanks Shevaun, loving these flowers, although that yellow may defeat me! but will give it a go

  3. Lovely oranges you have captured there Dianne - so nice to see something bright and cheerful. I bet you enjoyed the change from your snakes heads. Lovely informative post as always - thanks for taking the time to write it.

    1. Yes jess, what a change to paint something big and bright :)

  4. Dianne, Beautiful work and very speedy too, as always! I look forward to seeing the paintings progress.

    1. Thanks Janene, The yellow one is extra smelly, maybe try an hour or two on it this afternoon and will post results. I really don't like painting yellow flowers, so will have to see how it goes.

  5. Dianne you are so quick with these! Love those oranges and your drawing captures a very exhuberant plant ! Can't wait to see it painted.

    1. Thanks Polly, I really hope I can get the paintings finished this year but if not I will complete them next year when hopefully they flower again :)

  6. Lovely to see your work in progress here Dianne. I love your graphite study and those oranges are wonderful. Lovely to see that sketchbook page again too.

  7. Clusius pulled me in - and your artwork - now a follower. I recently finished a lecture on the tulip, and thus I met Clusius - great chap and great stories.