Flowers—Bouquet (Tulip Buds) demonstrates Walt Kuhn's lifelong fascination with still-life subjects. He created his first flower painting in 1918 and made a series of them as early as 1921. In the Phillips canvas the simplicity of the design, the technique of laying in blocks of color, and the reduction of forms to abstract, essential shapes typify Kuhn's transitional phase between 1912 and 1920.
While Kuhn worked directly from life in his later paintings, Flowers—Bouquet (Tulip Buds) was inspired by scrapbook pictures. In executing the painting, Kuhn allowed the canvas weave to become part of the composition, a method he also utilized in his mature works. Kuhn also employs the technique of underdrawing, visible through the oil pigment.
In 1926 Duncan Phillips introduced Kuhn to the Washington public when he included Flowers—Bouquet (Tulip Buds) in a small group exhibition of American artists designed to "reveal the fact that drastic modifications… of Cubism are being made in America." Phillips believed that artists such as Dove, Hartley, and Tack were "allied in a mutual desire to create a fresh and rhythmical language of form and color which will convey their emotions." Phillips admired Kuhn for his lyrical use of color, writing that "the color scheme of Walt Kuhn's 'Tulip Buds' vibrates in the senses like a re-captured odor and its train of associations...." In 1927 Phillips wrote to Kuhn about this work:
… I have had so much pleasure from your little picture.... It hangs in my room where I see it every day. I want very much to get another, perhaps many more examples of your art which has more taste and distinction than most of the American Modernists.
Kuhn himself did not view this painting as one of his most important works. In commenting that his work was only a slight fragment of his entire artistic production, Phillips responded, "If this little flower piece is not characteristic of you I am sorry for it is true that I do like it better than anything I have seen." Despite their difference of opinion, Phillips and Kuhn became friends and developed similar artistic ideals and viewpoints. The Phillipses called on Kuhn in his New York studio in 1932, and the artist came to the museum when in Washington visiting his relatives.