Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Flower Observed

I own quite a collection of art books focusing on floral imagery in art. I'm currently re-reading Art in Bloom by Ella M. Foshay which contains paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This spring I will get to spend several days in Boston with a friend and fellow artist who lives in the area. I just may get to see some of these paintings in the flesh.

In an eloquent essay by Foshay titled The Flower Observed she traces the path of floral imagery in art through the centuries from its practical beginnings, through religious significance, to the works of 20th century artists. It is quite a gallop through history and very informative for someone who is interested in this subject matter.

She begins by noting that poets, artists, philosophers, gardeners etc. who respond to floral forms and consider the life cycle of plants as a metaphor for the human condition all share a common belief that "essential truths could be found through the consideration of the floral kingdom".

Did you know that...
  • along with the study of human anatomy, the pages of da Vinci's notebooks were filled with notations and drawings reflecting his preoccupation with the plant world and organic life?
Just before 1600 Dutch and Flemish painters produced the first large scale floral paintings (before that flowers were used as symbolism in religious paintings).

Still Life with Flowers(1639) oil on panel,
Hans Bollingier

Vanitas paintings present the exquisite beauty of a flower in full bloom as a symbol of impending decay.

Vanitas Still Life with a Boquet and a Skull (1643) Adriaen van Utrecht

The development of the magnifying glass intensified artists' visual understanding of floral forms and promoted an increased naturalism of floral detail.

The rose is considered the queen of flowers.

Jean-Pierre Redoute imortalized the rose in his prints, entitled Les Roses issued in three volumes from 1817 to 1824?

Rosa Muscosa Multiplex, Jean- Pierre Redoute

John Ruskin, philosopher and artist, recommended that artists avoid the hybrids or the "florist's flowers" and paint the truth of nature, i.e., wildflowers

Study of Foliage
( 1845) John Ruskin

The invention of the x-ray played a role comparable to the magnifying glass and microscope in intensifying artists ' perspective on natural form?
Flower Forms, 1928, Sheeler... "all nature has an underlying abstract structure and it is within the province of the artist to search for it."

Edward Hopper painted only one floral image in his whole career represented in Room in Brooklyn painted in 1932?


-Don said...

This is a very intriguing post. I never really gave any thought to the history of floral painting. I always appreciated the flowers represented in paint and what they symbolized, but never gave it much thought beyond that. Thanks for opening my eyes.

When I got down to that Hopper I almost forgot everything else I had read. I love his work and have several books on his work, but I had never realized this was the only time he painted flowers. I do remember he had said that he did not particularly like flowers - something about being self-sufficient in their beauty. But, I didn't realize he chose not to paint them because of this... Hmmm, now I'm about to get down one of my Hopper books and check this out...


layers said...

did not know that Hopper had painted one floral scene-- so many different styles and forms of flowers here-- very informative

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Greetings Margaret,

I have always enjoyed botanical illustrations from the early herbal notebooks to the Flemish paintings with their grand floral arrangements.

Some of the best floral studies were by women in the 18th and 19 th century with no botanical study, yet their illustrations have been some of the most valuable studies available to us to this day.

Thank you for sharing,

Kathy said...

Nice essay, Margaret! So many artists paint florals these days and that's clear evidence of how universally appealing the subject is. You posted some great examples!

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Ngoc Dieu said...

hi, everybody,

I'm from VietNam, i can't good English and write too, but I can a little. I can't write feels for myself all, as : -Don, Layers, Four Seasons in a Life, Kathy and v.v...

But I have feeling beauty, life for paintings and verbalize.

Your paiting is very wonderful and a deep thought about life....

And with best wishes to you.