Blue Tulip, An Artistic Adventure

A decade ago, Posey Boicourt was a regular contributor to Attraction magazine, penning articles on a wide variety of subjects. But, in 2009, another interest grabbed her and settled in her bones. This story involves an ancestor and a portrait and a need to know more about family history. Posey set the wheels in motion. The end result is a 280-page book entitled Blue Tulip, art history crossed with memoire, a tale of adventure detailing the life and works of her great, great, great uncle, Francois Joseph Kinsoen, who left Bruges, Belgium for Paris, France in 1799, just as Napoleon was coming into power.

The girl on the cover of Blue Tulip is Adele Kinsoen, who lived with her portrait painter uncle at the height of his popularity in Paris before emigrating to Chicago as an adult.

The family knew of this painting ancestor but nothing of the magnificent scope of his career. From her youth, Posey remembers gazing at Kinsoen’s self-portrait from the dining room table at her grandparents’ home. They were all aware of Kinsoen, after all, he held court from Mimi and Papoo’s wall, but he was a fixture, part of the furniture, and thus never questioned. Kinsoen paintings were dispersed in various family members’ homes over the decades. It was when Posey was dispatched by her aunt to a distant relative’s home to evaluate a Kinsoen painting up for auction that she first saw Adele, a very young version of her great, great grandmother. Posey’s decade long “obsession” began.

Her focus narrowed further, and she homed in on details from two centuries ago. As Posey set off for  Belgium, England and Paris to gather intel, she learned that her Uncle Francois had painted Napoleon’s mother, Queen of Westphalia, the Prince and Princess of Orange, and many other royals in the early 1800s. Kinsoen paintings hang in the galleries of the Palace of Versailles, where Posey was given exclusive access, as well as Palace of Fountainbleau (with its 1,500 rooms), Blois Chateau, Groeninge Museum in Bruges, city of Kinsoen’s birth, and the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, England, (where Charles Dickens penned Nicolas Nickleby).

This self-portrait of Francois Joseph Kinsoen watched over family gatherings for years.

In the book’s prologue, Posey explains, “…Somewhere along the way as I pursued my quarry and began stitching together my adventures in a series of emails home, a new persona evolved. Blue Tulip emerged, fumbling in French and dragging her baggage, caught between two worlds, her own and a new one…”

In Europe, Posey put her research skills to the test and in emails home, Blue Tulip detailed her adventures. A manuscript slowly started to take shape. The book is multi-faceted in that it weaves world and art history into the story of Kinsoen, intermixed with her emails about her adventures, as well as many striking graphics and photographs.

Although not formally trained as an art historian, Posey has a solid art background. In addition to an undergraduate degree in anthropology and grad work on cultural networks and their influence on individual artists, Posey studied art history and learned to research and write about painters and painting for the James Michener Collection of Twentieth Century American Art at the University of Texas, Austin, then under the directorship of Rusty Powell, who recently retired as director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Museum archivists and curators responded to her requests favorably, however “unconventional.” Although Posey didn’t have official credentials, she was granted access to collections typically not open to the general public due, in part, to her passion for and knowledge of this portraitist from the post French Revolution era.

According to Posey, “My recently developed penchant for detective work associated with Francois Joseph Kinsoen is derivative of that early and abiding interest in art and the individual, as well as a late-blooming freedom and desire to find out about family not so long ago.”

Now that the decade-long quest for publishing the book is complete, Posey is currently marketing the book. She travels to Bruges for a book launch on October 16, speaks at the Academy Art Museum on December 8 in Easton and visits the Belgian consulate in Chicago (where her family emigrated in 1848) to discuss Blue Tulip, which features dozens of Kinsoen’s paintings in full color and contains an extensive portfolio section with individual essays on 14 selected works.

Blue Tulip, published by Story Arts Media, is available at bluetulipproject.com. As with anything in life, perhaps, Posey is ready to switch gears and focus on her own art, weaving and basketry, among other things.

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