They could be canvases adorning the walls of the Louvre or New York’s MOMA, their vibrant blocks of primary colors perhaps bringing to mind Piet Mondrian’s famous Tableau sequence. However, rather amazingly, this is in fact no selection of man-made avant garde art but, instead, some stunning visions of nature from above. More precisely, they are fields of tulips in the Netherlands grown in a way that turns them into something as spectacular as virtually anything to be found in museums around the world.
In fact, these awe-inspiring fields of flowers somewhat bring to mind works of abstract art – the prevailing artistic movement of the 1900s and an area in which Mondrian is a notable name. Indeed, the rigid lines, bright hues and grassy fields on display here bear more than a passing resemblance to the lines and blocks of color seen in many of Mondrian’s self-styled “Neo-Plasticism” works.
And as abstract art forerunner Wassily Kandinsky reasoned, a powerful piece of art can be based on nothing but color and arrangement rather than a specific subject – perhaps the reason why the arrays of tulips from above are so evocative just by themselves.
Indeed, the simple colors and geometry of these flower fields in the northern Netherlands are the things that entice the viewer, creating truly spectacular photographs that could be hung in frames at the most prestigious of galleries.
These wonderful slabs of color are produced by planting the tulips in specific blocks in late fall. Embedding the bulbs in this way is likely to make the harvesting and exporting process somewhat simpler – and the method has the added bonus of giving the fields their distinctive, eye-catching patterns.
All of the photos here were taken above tulip fields located in Anna Paulowna in North Holland. Photographer Curtis Hilbun has described this particular area as being “wall to wall tulips… all the way to the coast” at a certain time of the year.
In fact, it’s in spring that the tulips bloom and turn the fields here into a spectacular kaleidoscope of colors. Upwards of 24,000 acres in the Netherlands are given over to growing billions of these beautiful flowers, which are then sold locally and exported internationally.
These fields – and similar tulip farms elsewhere in the country – have now become a popular tourist attraction, as visitors flock to catch a glimpse of their vibrant displays. They are the perfect place to pull up at the side of the road and make the most of the rainbow-like views on offer.
It’s also recommended that tourists explore the views and smells of the flowering fields while on a cycling jaunt, in this way combining – in bicycles and tulips – two of the Netherlands’ most famous sights.
Moreover, cyclists can ride through Lisse’s renowned Keukenhof gardens, named as “the best place to see tulips” in the country. And those feeling more adventurous, meanwhile, can tour the tulip fields from Leiden in South Holland right through to the historic northern city of Haarlem. The photo opportunities are seemingly endless.
Still, perhaps the best way to experience the abstract beauty of these jaw-dropping landscapes is from above. Pilot Claython Pender flew one of the photographers featured here over the tulip fields in 2011 and has said of the experience, “It’s one thing to cast your eye across a tulip field from the ground, and quite another to see them from the air.”
Both sets of images were also captured toward the end of April – an ideal time of year for tulip tourists. And there have evidently been more than a few individuals who have wanted to take to the skies to witness the blooms; as Pender stated in April 2011, “I’ve not flown this much in such a short space of time since flight school!”
Pender has related that some shots of the fields have been taken from as low an altitude as 700 feet, with the plane traveling at around 70 knots. Photographers flying above the tulips can then capture the colorful compositions by merely aiming a camera out of a window and pushing the button. Such a simple technique, however, can produce some truly beautiful results.
And such displays would not have been possible in the Netherlands if the tulip hadn’t been introduced to the country in the first place. The first imports of the flower to the Netherlands came in the 1500s; the tulip was initially grown in the Ottoman Empire – now contemporary Turkey.
French-born botanist Carolus Clusius published a key volume on tulips just before the turn of the 17th century, in 1592. He grew the flower in a botanic garden in Leiden, where they turned out to be so prized that the bulbs were constantly pilfered. In fact, Clusius’ tulip garden proved to be the spur for one of the Netherlands’ most famous industries.
The burgeoning popularity of tulips in the Netherlands coincided with the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age. It was a prosperous time for the country as a whole, with the Dutch making great strides in exploration, art and trade.
In fact, tulips were so admired in the middle of the 17th century that they generated so-called “Tulip Mania” – one of the earliest examples of an economic bubble. The flowers were even traded like currency; that is, until the bubble – perhaps inevitably – burst.
But the tulip’s popularity has barely waned since then and indeed has blossomed far beyond the boundaries of the Netherlands. The flower even has its own festivals in Albany, New York and – perhaps unsurprisingly – Holland, Michigan.
Those interested in capturing their own abstract-like images of these amazing flowers should note that some time and planning is essential, as the trip is not necessarily just a simple jaunt across the fields. In fact, it’s worth contacting a local aviator who may have crucial insider knowledge of the area.
Yet regardless of whether one witnesses the spectacle of these terrific tulips from the ground or above, there’s no denying the fact that the resulting effect is bizarrely beautiful. Perhaps the fields’ vibrant colors, patterns and lines would even have wowed the abstract painters of the past as much as they do modern-day visitors.