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There has been a notable resurgence, in recent years, of Contemporary flower paintings; not just vases of flowers in interiors but also of wildflowers in meadows. If we think about it , flower paintings are the perfect antidote to our high tech lifestyle in the same way that art nouveau, in the late 19th century was to the Industrial revolution.
Couple that with the exponential interest in gardening and gardens, and the love, we British have for our plants, and it is not hard to see the desire to echo these influences in the art we choose. In the gardening world, there has been a trend towards wildflowers and particularly wildflower meadows which we all long to grow in our own gardens. What was completely natural in our landscape in the past, but has depleted due to farming methods, is surprisingly difficult, and expensive, to recreate ‘artifically’ . Their seasonality, in a world where we are used to be able to order anything we need, also makes them very special, hence the joy of capturing that on canvas, and being able to view it all year round.
The history of flower paintings can be said to have started in the Dutch golden age, when flora was brought back by merchants from all corners of the globe. These highly prized specimens were recorded for posterity by commissioned artists, like Bosschaert the Elder, and were very realistic portrayals. At this time botannical realism was the aim, together with the rich and powerful wanting to possess certain specimens such as the tulip, which reached dizzying heights of value at the turn of the 18th century. For over 300 years, Dutch flower paintings were sought after, with flower paintings getting looser in style towards the 19th century.
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, 'A Still Life of Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase on a Ledge with further Flowers, Shells and a Butterfly', 1609-10
‘Flowers make us happy, remind us of our loved ones, and of halycon summer days’
Flowers have always held symbolism, particularly in an era of supressed emotion, such as during the Victorian Era. Floriography, or the language of flowers, was the modern day equivalent of emojii. Romance was able to transcend the restraints of social morays, through the portal of flowers, when a bouquet of red tulips, for example, was a declaration of love. There is no doubt that you can say something with flowers. Even now, how best to express love, thanks, celebrations and good wishes than through the medium of flowers. Flowers make us happy, remind us of our loved ones, and of halycon summer days.
Up until the 1870s, flower paintings were generally still lives, painted in studios. The Impressionists took painting outside and some of our much cherished images from this era include Monet’s Poppy Field. Having to paint quickly en plein air, loosened the rigidity of style, hitherto regarded, and brought feeling and expression to the canvas. This influence is still with us today in plein air paintings of wild flower meadows.
Claude Monet, ‘Les Coquelicots a Argenteuil” 1873
Post war art of the 20th Century reflected our consumer society; pop art, abstract expressionism, Op art, minimilism and concept art dominated. Art was all about finding new ways of expression and seeing, exploring different media and pushing boundaries of decency and taste. Not much room here for paintings of nature or flowers.
However, the tide is turning and with a new generation who are very concerned with our environment, going back to nature and growing their own plants. Our interest in preserving the life of bees by planting more wildflower meadows and general acknowledgement of climate change has renewed our interest in nature and how much we value it. With that comes our appreciation of flowers in art.
In addition the popularity of artists through national exhibitions, such as Gustav Klimt, Winifred Nicholson and Georgia O’Keefe and has filtered down, so that you can see glimpses of their influence on Contemporary artists.
Flower Garden by Gustav Klimt
Today an artist can paint virtually anything they choose, but artists throughout time have an uncanny way of prizing, what at first, might seem ordinary, but which over time, we come to cherish: The simplicity and ordinariness of flowers in an increasingly high tech and complicated world.