Botanical art

Art from the Garden by Jeannine Cook

It is enough to make one feel guilty!

Spending hours in the bright sunlight in the midst of winter, while practically everyone one knows is suffering extreme cold or torrential rains or both in rapid succession in Northern countries.

Winter in the Mediterranean has definite charms.

One of the most delightful of these charms is a part of the garden fragrant with a carpet of violets blooming. Every time I pick these lovely flowers, I remember the steep banks of Tanzanian mountain terraces bound with violets where I spent hours as a child picking huge perfumed bunches while my mother worked among the flowers in the terrace beds.

So it was natural that when I moved to Paris, I was delighted to find there were still ladies selling bunches of flowers on street corners and especially posies of Parma violets, the most fragrant of all violets, said to be from Toulouse.

Thomas Waterman Wood, (American),  Spring Violets , 1868

Thomas Waterman Wood, (American), Spring Violets, 1868

And then I discovered the paintings and drawings of flowers that told of other people’s delight with violets down the ages as I spent hour upon hour in the French museums.

The love of violets showed up early, not surprisingly, in the wonderful margin illuminations in medieval manuscripts, where flowers are woven in with birds, insects and glorious arabesques and curliques. Since violets symbolize purity, modesty and pure love and are associated with the Virgin Mary, it was normal to include these spring flowers in Books of Hours and other religious works. Books of Hours were created from the 13th century onwards, often in France, and are still treasured works that remain jewel-like. Nonetheless, violets had come into the Christian lexicon from far earlier: the Greeks hadesteemed them and used them in sleeping draughts, health-giving tisanes, as sweetening for food, as well as loving their beauty. The Romans of course followed suit, and made wine from violets, used them in salads and as conserves. Violet tinctures and elixirs, perfumes and cosmetics helped restore health and well being. Later the Anglo Saxons believed in the curative powers of violets for wounds, and followed ancient practices of using violets to help restore the respiratory tract after colds and bronchitis. So it was not surprising that violets very so frequently illustrated in early holy books.

Book of Hours page, c. 1470, France

Book of Hours page, c. 1470, France

Book of Hours, Bruges, 1494, vellum, (Image courtesy of National Library of the Netherlands)

Book of Hours, Bruges, 1494, vellum, (Image courtesy of National Library of the Netherlands)

Book of Hours, 15th century, (Image courtesy of Raner Library, Dartmouth College)

Book of Hours, 15th century, (Image courtesy of Raner Library, Dartmouth College)

Individual early artists who celebrated violets, members of the Viola family, are Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci.

A sheet of studies, that has been dated to  “about 1487-90” , from the Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France (B fol. 14r), showing Leonardo’s study of violets and designs for a means of soldering lead roof coverings.

A sheet of studies, that has been dated to “about 1487-90”, from the Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France (B fol. 14r), showing Leonardo’s study of violets and designs for a means of soldering lead roof coverings.

Study of Flowers, (including violets),  Leonardo da Vinci (Image couretesy of Academia de Venezia)

Study of Flowers, (including violets), Leonardo da Vinci (Image couretesy of Academia de Venezia)

Bouquet of Violets,  Albrecht Dürer, c. 150, 1505,body colour and watercolour on parchment, (Image courtesy of Graphische Sammlung Albertina)

Bouquet of Violets, Albrecht Dürer, c. 150, 1505,body colour and watercolour on parchment, (Image courtesy of Graphische Sammlung Albertina)

Then came a long period when violets, and other flowers for that matter, were mostly painted by Dutch still life artists in the 16th and early 17th century.

It was really not surprising that the Dutch artists should celebrate flowers but they became masters of combining flowers, in one painting, that actually bloomed at entirely different times. Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1583-1621) was one such master, painting on panels or on copper, works that glow.

Flower Still Life,  (with violets), Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, 1614, oil on copper (Image courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum)

Flower Still Life, (with violets), Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, 1614, oil on copper (Image courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum)

Still Life of Roses, Marigolds, Aquilega, Violets, Convolvulus, Hollyhocks,  oil on oak panel, 1600-1605, Ambrosium Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621)

Still Life of Roses, Marigolds, Aquilega, Violets, Convolvulus, Hollyhocks, oil on oak panel, 1600-1605, Ambrosium Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621)

A little earlier, French writer, traveller and artist, Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues had teamed up with the French Huguenots who unsuccessfully attempted to establish a colony in Florida in 1564, recording much of the flora and fauna he saw there. He also later worked in London and produced some beautiful botanical studies, considered the finest in the 16th century. He included violets in his repertoire.

Flowers, Butterflies, Insects,  Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, late 16th century, (Image courtesy of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington)

Flowers, Butterflies, Insects, Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, late 16th century, (Image courtesy of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington)

The French heritage of botanical studies continued into the 18th and 19th century, as is demonstrated by Pierre Jean François Turpin, considered one of the best botanical and floral artists of the Napoleonic era and beyond, as well as another noted German botanical illustrator, Georg Dionysius Ehret. Another Frenchman who painted violets in a less rigourously botanical fashion was Paul de Longpre (1855-1911): he was very much into the Victorian era spirit of depicting flowers. Nonetheless, he know how to paint violets in a way that allows one almost to smell their perfume.

Wood Violet, Pierre Jean François Turpin, (1775-1840), (Image courtesy of Musee National d'Histoire Naturelle)

Wood Violet, Pierre Jean François Turpin, (1775-1840), (Image courtesy of Musee National d'Histoire Naturelle)

Viola, graphite and bodycolour on vellum, Georg Dionysius Ehret, 1708-1770, (Image courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

Viola, graphite and bodycolour on vellum, Georg Dionysius Ehret, 1708-1770, (Image courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

Violets,  Paul De Longpré, 1896, watercolour

Violets, Paul De Longpré, 1896, watercolour

Violets,  Paul De Longpré, 1902

Violets, Paul De Longpré, 1902

Anemones and Violets in Blue Bowl,  G. Pellerier, late 19th-early 20th century

Anemones and Violets in Blue Bowl, G. Pellerier, late 19th-early 20th century

Indeed, the 19th century brought more attention to the humble violet, mainly as a prop in portraits of young ladies, as in Théodore Chasseriau’s and James Tissot’s cases.Edouard Manet obviously got enticed by bouquets of violets, for in the same year, 1872, he painted two pictures, on a study of a bunch of violets, the other a portrait of Berthe Morisot with a bunch of the same flowers.

Mademoiselle de Cabarrus,  Theodore Chassériau, 1848

Mademoiselle de Cabarrus, Theodore Chassériau, 1848

Jenue Femme en Verte,  James Tissot, 1864, (Image courtesy of Musee d'Orsay)

Jenue Femme en Verte, James Tissot, 1864, (Image courtesy of Musee d'Orsay)

Bouquet de violettes,  Edouard Manet, 1872, Private Collection

Bouquet de violettes, Edouard Manet, 1872, Private Collection

Berthe Morisot au Chaopeau Noir et au Bouquet de Violettes,  Edouard Manet, 1872, (Image courtesy of Musee d'Orsay)

Berthe Morisot au Chaopeau Noir et au Bouquet de Violettes, Edouard Manet, 1872, (Image courtesy of Musee d'Orsay)

The Victoria era brought a surge of interest to flower painting and the violet was one of the favoured flowers to paint, with its symbolism, fragrance and, I suspect, availability as Viola odorata varieties grow beautifully in well-watered, moderate to mild climates. The French and British artists seem to have been the most keen on painting violets, but in the United States, in the early 20th century. Lila Cabot Perry used violets in a couple of her paintings. Elbridge Ayer Burbank and Thomas Waterman Wood were other American artists who loved violets, as was the Tiffany artist, Alice Gouvy.

Violets,  1904, Henry Meynell Rheam, British, 1859-1920

Violets, 1904, Henry Meynell Rheam, British, 1859-1920

Portrait of Mrs. Joseph Clark Drew,  1903-04, Lila Cabot Perry, Private Collection (Courtesy of Beverly A Mitchell Gallery)

Portrait of Mrs. Joseph Clark Drew, 1903-04, Lila Cabot Perry, Private Collection (Courtesy of Beverly A Mitchell Gallery)

Lady with a Bowl of Violets,  1910, Lila Cabot Perry, (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Women in the Arts)

Lady with a Bowl of Violets, 1910, Lila Cabot Perry, (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Women in the Arts)

Violets,  c. 1917, Elbridge Ayer Burbank, American, 1858-1949

Violets, c. 1917, Elbridge Ayer Burbank, American, 1858-1949

  Violets 231, Alice Gouvy, Tiffany Furnaces, Corona, New York, about 1902

 Violets 231, Alice Gouvy, Tiffany Furnaces, Corona, New York, about 1902

Today, artists still turn to the violet family in delight.

One only has to look on the Net at the many, many images, mostly photographs, of these lovely flowers. But perhaps, in anticipation of 14th February at the end of this week, this should be the last image about one of my most favourite flowers, one of them growing in a garden.  One can just imagine their perfume scenting the air.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Golden Globes - Oranges in Art by Jeannine Cook

Looking at the glowing oranges hanging in such bounty from the trees in the garden, I find myself marvelling in the play of light on their rough skins and the intensity of the colours.  The lustrous dark green leaves are the perfect foil for the fruit, the brilliant Mediterranean blue sky above the ultimate enhancement.  The temptation to paint these oranges is constant, but I have learned that watercolours are not the best medium to convey the intensity of these glorious winter fruits.

I began thinking of the paintings I have seen over the years of oranges; I realise that of course, it is mostly artists who have lived in the Mediterranean area - or at least visited - that have used oranges in their paintings. One of the earliest artists that comes to mind who used oranges in a wonderful still life painting was Spanish Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)I was spellbound, like so many others, when I saw this painting at the Norton Simon. It glows - and the oranges could almost be smelled in their tangy citrus perfume.

Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose , 1633, Zurbaran, (Image courtesy of the Norton Simon Museum)

Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, 1633, Zurbaran, (Image courtesy of the Norton Simon Museum)

Still Life with Oranges and Watermelon , c. 1760,  Luis Melendez, c. 1760  (Image courtesy of the Prado Museum)

Still Life with Oranges and Watermelon, c. 1760,  Luis Melendez, c. 1760  (Image courtesy of the Prado Museum)

Still Life with Oranges and Walnuts,  1772, Luis Melendez, (Image courtesy of National Gallery, London)

Still Life with Oranges and Walnuts, 1772, Luis Melendez, (Image courtesy of National Gallery, London)

Another Spanish artist that comes to mind celebrates oranges in a different fashion - oranges growing in orchards or being sold:  Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, Valencia-born artist of light and Spanish life, straddled the 19th and 20th century, and recorded history, landscapes, portraits in vivid, lyrical fashion.

The Orange Seller,   1891, Joaquin Sorolla, Private Collection

The Orange Seller,  1891, Joaquin Sorolla, Private Collection

Orange Trees on the Road to Seville , 1903,  Joaquin Sorolla, Private Collection

Orange Trees on the Road to Seville, 1903,  Joaquin Sorolla, Private Collection

Another artist who loved the brilliance of oranges in the South of France was, of course, Vincent Van Gogh.  He returned to these golden marvels several times, and I am sure their colour not only echoed the golden yellows he loved so much in sunflowers, ripe wheat fields, or his chair, but they must have cheered him up when he was in mental anguish.

Still Life with Basket and Six Oranges,  Vincent Van Gogh,  Arles, 1888, Private Collection

Still Life with Basket and Six Oranges, Vincent Van Gogh,  Arles, 1888, Private Collection

Still Life with Oranges,, Lemons and Blue Gloves,  Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, (Image courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon)

Still Life with Oranges,, Lemons and Blue Gloves, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, (Image courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon)

 Paul Cezanne used them too in some of his still life paintings. One of the most famous is a complex feat of celebrating fruits, including the oranges.

Apples and Oranges , Paul Cezanne, c. 1899, (Image courtesy of Musee d'Orsay)

Apples and Oranges, Paul Cezanne, c. 1899, (Image courtesy of Musee d'Orsay)

Still Life with Milk Jug and Fruit,  c. 1900, Paul Cezanne, (Image courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Still Life with Milk Jug and Fruit, c. 1900, Paul Cezanne, (Image courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington)

At almost the same time, Henri Matisse was also experimenting with still life paintings that included oranges.  It was a theme to which he returned...no one can resist these golden orbs!

Still Life with Oranges II,  Henri Matisse, c. 1899, (image courtesy of  Kemper Art Museum)

Still Life with Oranges II, Henri Matisse, c. 1899, (image courtesy of  Kemper Art Museum)

Basket with Oranges,  1913, Henri Matisse, (Image courtesy of the Louvre, Paris)

Basket with Oranges, 1913, Henri Matisse, (Image courtesy of the Louvre, Paris)

Every time I walk in the garden and see the oranges, I understand why these artists used them in their brilliant still life studies.

 

Botanical Art by Jeannine Cook

Botanical art is enjoying a great resurgence in popularity and appreciation. The British, Australians and some Europeans had continued always to favour this form of art, partly, perhaps, because of the strong horticultural and plant collection/husbandry tradition. Kew Gardens and other important botanical gardens round the world had kept alive the tradition of fine art married to botany. However, with the founding of the American Society of Botanical Artists in 1995, this art form took off. Another decisive factor in this renaissance has been the enthusiastic and hugely influential support of Dr.Shirley Sherwood.  Not only has she collected botanical art all over the world and helped artists most generously, but she has now enabled Kew Gardens to have the world's first gallery devoted to botanical art, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.  (I am proud to say that she owns one of my silverpoint drawings.)

Azaleas in March, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist, Private collection

Azaleas in March, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist, Private collection

With increasing interest in botanical art, the ASBA has been organising important exhibitions around the United States. The Society, to which I have belonged for many years, has become more and more imaginative in exhibit themes and attuned to today's environmental concerns. A show which has just opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, demonstrates this: "Losing Paradise? Endangered Plants Here and Around the World" shows art done by forty-one artists from the five continents. The exhibit has already travelled to the Missouri Botanic Garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the New York Botanical Garden.

Using the simplest of media - graphite pencils, pen and ink, coloured pencils and paint - the artists not only captured the essence of the plant but they document its structure, habit of growth, colouration and general characteristics in exquisite, accurate detail. Again, as with so many works of art done from real life, as opposed to photographs, each artist creates an individualistic interpretation of the subject matter, combining artistic skill with the energy and passion inspired by that plant. In the case of this particular exhibition, there was an additional energy. The Society posted the call for this exhibition about three years previously, so that artists all around the world could seek out endangered plants and help draw attention to their plight by the art created. What more enlightened role could art play!