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The making of an 'impossible room fragrance'

Image For Website - Vase With Flowers

30 different species of flower feature in the above still life by Van Huysum - no mean feat for the artist to paint as they were never in bloom at the same time. But while Van Huysum returned to Vase with Flowers over the course of one or two years to paint each flower from life, Sonia Kiourtzidis, our Head of Retail at the Gallery came up with another way of capturing the seasonal flowers - in the form of a new bespoke room fragrance.

With the launch of the fragrance in the Gallery shop, we caught up with Sonia to find out how this unique product came to fruition.

The fragrance was launched as part of a range of products to coincide with the Gallery’s former temporary display An Impossible Bouquet: Four Masterpieces by Jan van Huysum. Sonia explained:

‘I realised Dulwich Picture Gallery had its own botanical image archive in the form of Jan van Huysum’s paintings and that there was a unique opportunity to translate this to fragrance.’

The challenge was set for Sonia, working with the Lacock based perfumery Quintessentially English, to create a captivating scent that reflected the painting’s essence as an ‘impossible bouquet’ of non-native species and mixed-seasonal flowers. Although the selection for the fragrance was limited by the availability of essential oils for the rarer flowers, Sonia had strong ideas of which scents she wanted to highlight.

‘I knew there had to be tulip. The mass-delusional phenomenon of Tulipmania during the Dutch Golden Age has always fascinated me, and its cultural context is at the heart of much Dutch still life painting from that time.’

For the remaining scent combinations, Sonia bowed to the expert knowledge of the perfumers, who would layer different fragrance notes like a piece of music:

‘rose at the base; iris, carnation and marigold in the middle register; violet and tulip trilling over the top.’


Huysum -fragrance -web


 With such a diverse combination of scents, we asked Sonia how she would describe the fragrance.

‘The smell is truly impossible to define! It carries contradictions: fresh and fruity, yet exotic and musky; romantic and vintage yet cool and contemporary… people will have to experience it for themselves as the scent slowly unfolds and transforms the atmosphere of a room.’

The Impossible Bouquet Room Fragrance can be purchased online or in the Gallery’s shop. The fragrance forms part of a range of products that feature prints, home ware, stationery and a 100% silk georgette scarf, all inspired by the work of Jan van Huysum.


Image: Jan Van Huysum, Vase with Flowers, By permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery