Inside Out Blog

15 Dec

Artists as Plant Lovers

Artists have long captured the vibrant color of flowers, the green of lush landscapes or focused on the intricacies of beautiful botanical forms. When the cold, stormy weather outside threatens, viewing art can bring pleasant memories of spring and summer’s garden back into view. Think about enjoying or giving the gift of botanically-inspired art this winter, as seen in beautifully illustrated books or exhibition catalogs.

Whether painterly, decorative, illustrative or created to document a collected specimen, landscape and botanical subjects have been some of the most popular with artists throughout history. The ancient Greeks of Santorini painted floral murals, marking the beginning of botanical art. And in Egypt, the Sumerians depicted the first potted plant in sculpted relief during the reign of Ur-Nammu in 2047-2030 BC.

Varied forms of floral art across the globe

China, Japan, India, and other Asian countries have long-established traditions for the depiction of plants and flowers in art. Flower painting in China, known as huahui, began in 4000 BC but evolved as a proper art form during the T’ang Dynasty (681-906 AD).

Little of the floral art of this time period survives. But the tradition of ink painting trees, flowers, fruit, and birds on silk continues to characterize the country’s traditional art to this day.

Floral still-life paintings

Dutch floral painting

The paintings of the “Old Dutch Masters” of the Netherlands marked a heyday of the floral still-life genre. Paintings by these Renaissance painters often featured lush floral bouquets that included bi-colored or “broken” tulips, referred to as “Rembrandt Tulips.”

Dutch tulip drawing

In perhaps the most popular of floral still-life paintings, the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh painted five large canvases of yellow sunflowers in the late 1800s. Not unlike many other flower paintings, Van Gogh’s sunflowers were symbolic. He remarked that the flowers represented “gratitude.”

Van Gogh sun flowers

Garden landscapes as inspiration

Landscape painters often immortalize garden settings, and one of the most famous of garden muses is that of impressionist painter Claude Monet in Giverny, France. Monet immortalized flowers, water lilies and haystacks in a series of famous paintings spanning forty years of his life at the location.

Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, took a different approach to depicting a garden in his paintings, using repetition to create a gold and multi-colored colored surface pattern of blossoms.

And in a true example of biophilia, Mexican artist Freda Kahlo used her love of the plants and trees in her garden to inspire her art and comfort her in illness. Kahlo’s plant collection included ferns, palms, magnolias, fruit trees and cactus, often featured in her colorful paintings.

Botanical art for the modern age

The invention of photography allowed artists to make closer, more realistic and less expressive examination of plant life. The photogram, a contact print made without a camera, became an avant-garde art form in the 1920s. Artists Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy used plant specimens as their subjects. Today’s artists are using laser scanners to document plant material.

Botanical Art Books for Reading and Gifting

Below are some book suggestions on on botanical art and art depicting plants and landscapes. These make for great holiday gifts or for entertaining reading and viewing any time of year!

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