Flower Paintings in History

Since the beginning of time man has appreciated the sheer beauty and remarkable symmetry of the clusters of brightly coloured petals surrounding the secretive inner heart of a bloom.Used over the centuries as poignant symbols of love and grief, flowers have entranced and challenged artists to reproduce their perfection onto the confines of a canvas.Early religious symbolismFloral paintings, saturated with religious symbolism, were created by artists as early as the 13th century but by the time the early renaissance painters were reaching their artistic peak, symbolism made way for sheer appreciation of floral bouquets as worthy still life subjects.Reportage artThe 16th century was characterised by the exploration of the new world and the associated fascination with a seemingly boundless collection of new and unique natural varieties. Flowers, together with all the other intriguing species, were carefully recorded as scientific specimens, with very little emotive collaboration.It was a century later that flower paintings, created out of oils, became a major trend where sheer aesthetics outweighed the earlier religious or scientific prescriptions on creativity.Emotive symbolismAlthough religious symbolism had been banished earlier from the realm of the artist, flowers now began to represent a host of human emotions and were depicted as such:

The rose – love.
The lily – purity.
The tulip – nobility.
The sunflower – devotion.

The impressionism of ManetOne of the artists, pivotal in the timely transition from realism to impressionism, was the great French artist, Edouard Manet, who, with his loose brushstrokes, simple forms and contrasting colours, created floral art which resonated with life. His brilliant rendition of a vase of flowers, titled ‘Carnations and Clematis in a Crystal Vase’, is a case in point.¬†Accuracy was forced to make way for artistic interpretation for the first time in history of floral art.The dramatic floral dabs of Claude MonetThe great impressionist, Claude Monet, was mesmerised by the brilliance and bounty of Mother Nature. Instead of concentrating on a single bloom however, he used his dramatic dabs of paint effectively to create walls of flowers, one indistinguishable from the other. Monet was so smitten with the impact of flowers in painting, that he dedicated most of his life to the creation of priceless works of art including ‘The Artist’s house at Argenteuil’, ‘Poppies Blooming’ and ‘Flowering Garden at Sainte-Adresse’.Vincent van Gogh’s SunflowersArguably one of the most famous floral artists of all time was the Dutch post-impressionist Master, Vincent van Gogh, whose studies of sunflowers were rather more stylised portraits of the subject, created with his trademark broad, almost careless, brush strokes. A recent estimate valued Van Gogh’s ‘Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers’ at $77m and ‘Irises’ at over $101m!Botanical ArtFloral art has, in effect, come full circle with creative expressionism being replaced with botanical art, where the subject is faithfully reproduced in a realistic fashion. Artistic expression has made way for observational art, an art form which can quite easily be compared to the ‘reportage’ art of the 16th century.

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