Flower arrangers can be inspired by classical Dutch paintings like Flowers in a Terracottta Vase, by Jan van Huysum (682-1749) in the National Gallery, London. These large flower still-lifes celebrate the rare, exotic, expensive and beautiful. They break all the ‘rules’ for flower arrangements, cramming in large blooms thickly all over the design. Notice that the flowers are not just from one season. Artists like van Huysum would work over the course of a year, waiting for each flower to bloom in order to paint it beautifully.
Henri Fantin-Latour, French 1836-1904, specialized in exquisite flower compositions. He is especially famous for the quality of his lush, blown roses. These narcissus are in “Spring Flowers” in the collection of The National Gallery of Scotland.
Edouard Manet was only 49 in 1880 when his health declined rapidly. In “The last Flowers of Manet” by Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge, sixteen exquisite flower paintings show Manet’s immense talent and dedication to his art.
This is a detail from “Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose”, 1885-6, again by Sargent and in the collection of the Tate Museum, London. The atmosphere in this painting is so inviting with the light reflected on the faces of the young girls, surrounded by fragrant flowers. We’ve gotten a little way past flower arrangements but this was once my favorite Sargent painting.
However this was superseded by “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit”,1883, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, is hands down my favorite Sargent. Sargent painted the four young daughters of his friend posed in their Boston home, dwarfed by huge Imari vases. These vases are installed in the museum with the painting. “Sargent’s Daughters, The Biography of a Painting” by Erica E. Hirshler is a fascinating book about Sargent’s working methods as well as a glimpse of an era when little girls stayed little girls. Unfortunately as they grew up, their story is a little sad.