Floral Arrangements: Highlights from the Collection
“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time—and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.” —Georgia O’Keeffe
This summer we celebrate floral objects from the Museum’s collections—a masterpiece book of designs, a drawing by Georgia O’Keeffe, a rug by Matisse. The paintings, photographs, and decorated objects on display are full of beauty and surprise, illustrating the ways in which we express our love of flowers through art and decoration.
The British and French art establishments of the 18th century deemed flower painting insignificant, because they thought it did not convey elevated themes. Nineteenth-century American artists, who revered all forms of nature, disagreed. To them the colored, curled, and fragile petals seemed to hold poetic allusions to ephemeral beauty and life.
Flowers in art appear as the primary subject matter and also highlight larger scenes. We see flowers in artistic but also scientifically accurate botanical illustrations, in still-life paintings and, as accessories in portraits. Artists often paint women with blooms to suggest the fleeting nature of beauty. Photographers, influenced by centuries of still life and garden painting, turn their cameras on flowers too, sometimes to make symbolic associations, sometimes to study artistic form. Stone flowers ornament architecture, cloth flowers our clothes, painted flowers our crockery. Whether arranged into gardens and bouquets or depicted as art and decoration, these “gems of nature” fill our lives with visual and emotional pleasure.