Apart from powdered pigment, is there any other material form more emblematic of color?
They have inspired artists of all eras and still have surprises to reveal. Simple or sophisticated, fragrant or elegant, bright or softly colored, they display their charm without counting.
Welcome them into your interiors in the form of bouquets or textiles, paintings, ceramics or sculptures.
Take them, undress them with your eyes, and trap them in your new creations by letting yourself be inspired by this new article.
And just before, a short paragraph on the vision of animals, especially insects.
Other types of vision
Insects are the “target audience” for flowers which hope to attract them to be fertilized. The shimmering colors of flowers are therefore not for the sake our eyes, but for theirs. Insects, on the other hand, are looking for those that will give them more nectar: less work for more food! When the two interests converge, the species proliferate.
We perceive the visible light (between 380nm and 780nm) thanks to cells located on the retina. During the day, three types of cells – the cones – allow us to see in color, each type being sensitive in different spectral windows; our vision is called tri-chromatic.
Animals have cell types that are sensitive to other wavelengths as well. Comparison between the responses produced will allow us to distinguish colors. These types vary by species and sometimes even by sex. Some have one type of receptor, others have two, three, or even more, up to twelve in shrimp.
Insect vision is between 330 nm and 630 nm. Some receptors are more sensitive to UV, others to a window around blue, green or yellow. The bee also has three, but they are out of step with ours.
To understand the evolution, we cross the spectral characteristics of the flowers – the light they send – with those of the pollinators’ vision – the light they detect (read here).
More poetic than the infra-red binoculars, I am waiting for the glasses that would give us the vision of bees.
Get Inspired and Observe
If I were an art historian I would write “Art Told by Flowers”. The subject indeed seems to cross time and space. There is an interest in flowers all over the world. Aren’t they the source of our sense of aesthetics? In the form of an offering, they thank the universe for giving us life and beauty. More simply, they are an opportunity for us to rejoice and marvel.
Among Flemish painters, representations of bouquets belong to the genre of vanities; they remind us of the passing of time. Flowers in bud are promises of beauty, those that wither announce the coming death.
Our inspiring walk begins with this still life from Daniel Seghers (1590-1661. A dark background highlights the light flowers in various shades. No vase, just a large variety of flowers and two ribbons that indicate a garland or wreath.
Next is a still life by Judith Leyster (1609-1660). The work, of a great delicacy is also all in subtlety ; the petals of the lilies and tulips are translucent and also burst out on the dark background.
Finally, below, a work by Abraham Mignon (1640-1679). I particularly like the swirl of red flowers arranged in a spiral around the white carnation in the center of the bouquet. The wheat ears and the stems also invite you to this swirling dance, in an axis perpendicular to the light.
Here are two still life by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), in the line of the Flemish still life, but with a light background. In the first one, the play of light in the vase, on the flowers and in the background is very successful. The range of colors is reduced. The second is more rustic and more varied.
This genre predates the realist painting shown above, but it is developed elsewhere and will have an impact on the way painting is conceived.
Indeed, Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Hokusai (1760-1840) (see also Challenge #3) had a great influence on European painters such as Van Gogh, Monet and Sisley. Both produced a series of flower prints, mostly in their natural surroundings, often as a foreground of a landscape. The beauty of the line, the harmonious composition, the reduced palette, all these ingredients can be found in the prints below.
Several versions of Hokusaï’s Bellflower and Dragonfly can be found on internet. See how different they look like. Here the question is not about good photographic reproduction. Once the wooden matrices are made, the printer can change the colors for each one, producing very different images.
Named Bertrand Redon (1840-1916), this French Symbolist painter deploys a joyful and luminous palette. His bouquets are magnificent examples.
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1929) cannot be ignored in this challenge about flowers. His sunflowers and irises are well known, but have you ever seen them? Van Gogh also painted tree flowers. The influence of Japanese printmaking is most pronounced in the almond tree in bloom.
Little known among the impressionists, here is a Japanese painter. At the age of 20, Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924) abandoned his law studies for painting, which he decided to study in Paris. I put his work just before one painting by Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), much better known here. Renoir’s two other paintings, which date back much earlier, are reminiscent of Flemish still life with their dark backgrounds.
The white and pink flowers of Pierre Bonnard‘s bouquet (1867-1947) blend into the cream background. The vase itself is decomposed according to its faces, one yellow ocher, the other blue, while a few colored spots animate the painting.
Claude Monet (1840-1926), often invited in my challenges, was also a flower lover, as one would guess from his magnificent property in Giverny and the many paintings he painted there. He also had a passion for Japanese prints; part of his collection can still be seen in his house. He was inspired enough to produce about twenty paintings which he sold in 1889 to – guess who? – Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s brother. In the series of water lilies that spans the last 31 years of his life, there is a shift towards abstraction.
The German expressionist Emil Nolde (1867-1956) painted many flowers in his career as a painter. There are still few royalty-free reproductions of his works; here is the only one I could find.
Hermen Anglada Camarasa
The painting below is the work of the Catalan artist Hermen Anglada Camarasa (1871-1959). This slightly naive, falsely symmetrical bouquet offers a beautiful chromatic balance on a blue background.
Klaus Fussmann (born 1938) excels in painting flowers and landscapes. In my eyes he is the direct heir of Emil Nolde. His watercolors of anemones, poppies and gladioli are only pretexts to bring out the joy of color.
Botany books fascinate me. Drawings and watercolors are so much more effective than photos in conveying the specificities of each species.
The German draughtsman, engraver, painter and also mathematician Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), drew several flowers very faithfully. His concern for precision that can be found throughout his work is quite remarkable in the watercolor Aquilegia presented below.
Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840), painter, engraver, publisher and teacher, has collaborated on nearly fifty books as an illustrator and editor.
Did you also dream as a child in front of the magnificent illustrations by Adolphe Millot (1857-1921) in an old Petit Larousse illustré ?
Contemporary illustrator Jennifer Orkin Lewis shares her daily work on Instagram (@augustwren). The freshness, spontaneity, and assurance of her colorful choices can only inspire you. Flowers play an important role in her creation. In these three illustrations I particularly appreciate the dialogue of lines and masses, the opposition of transparency and opacity, and the overall harmony that emerges.
Isabelle Menin (born 1961) is a photographer with the eyes of a painter. She started her career in graphic design and illustration. She gave up painting to devote herself to digital photography: she photographs, scans natural elements and assembles them into compositions combining textures and colors.
At the source of her work, the effervescence of color. Light, transparency, opacity, she juggles sometimes with one and sometimes with the other. Some would say that she loses herself in beauty. But beyond the opulence, the festival of colors and a composition drawn with a knife, one feels her inspiration in joy as well as in sorrow, and there is always a part of mystery in her photographs. Of course we feel the influence of the so-called ancient painting, but we feel a first work on the natural material and an appropriation of today’s techniques.
Jeong Hwa Choi, a Korean artist born in 1961, creates huge floral sculptures. This one, “The Flower Tree”, is made up of 85 flowers; it brightens up the city of Lyon on rainy days.
To keep a bouquet fresh, you have to resign yourself to putting it in a vase. Sober or sophisticated, vases become decorative objects in their own right. If the arrangement of the motifs is often dictated by the silhouette of the vase and therefore less delicate than in painting, the choice of the shape of the vase is essential; it may or may not give lightness to the bouquet. Moreover, stylized flowers will be less competitive than overly realistic designs.
Below, a detail of an Asian vase presented at the Guimet Museum in Paris. The photograph is slightly distorted to allow you to see two sides simultaneously.
In Belgium, the Royal Boch Keramis factory founded by the Boch brothers has been producing splendid earthenware since 1841. Charles Catteau is one of its most famous artists. Today the place is the site of the Kéramis Museum, an art space dedicated to ceramics.
In Italy, in the shade of the old walls, you can discover magnificent frescoes with delicate floral motifs.
The Japanese floral artist Azuma Makoto (born in 1976) composes bouquets which he has had photographed by Shiinoki Shunsuke. In order to offer his creations to the whole world, he goes so far as to transport them by balloon into the stratosphere. In another place, he presents them in huge ice cubes. For fashion, his bouquets become ornaments. Run on his Instagram account @azumamakoto to discover his overflowing creativity.
Azuma Makoto takes the concept of vanity explained above to the letter. Watch the video in which he transforms Odilon Redon’s Japanese vase, presented above.
The video “The Story of the Flowers” shows the cycle of flowers according to a scenario developed by Azuma Makoto. It was illustrated and animated by Katie Scott and James Paulley.
You can discover the abundant production of Anisa Makoul (@anisamakhoul) on her instagram account. Flowers are transformed into a motif, present themselves as a bouquet or solo, decorate a tin can, become fabric or wallpaper. An enchantment.
The @patterdesigners account allows you to discover the work of illustrators and textile designers every day. An excellent source of inspiration. Above, patterndesigners has chosen the work of Helen Dealtry (@helendealtry), who also has a passion for flowers.
The poppy is popular with painters and photographers. The fragility and transparency of its petals, the contrast between the heart and the corolla, the stance of the stem and the softness of its down, the encapsulated head that releases the seeds, all this makes it a particularly interesting flower.
Below is an interpretation by Fanny Cohen (@fancebee). And a few other photographs of her work.
For this challenge I copied a watercolor by Klaus Fussmann, from his exquisite little book “Metaphern der Flora”.
The potential of this subject seems infinite to me. The first photo I sold was a bouquet on a golden background and my first painting commission, poppies. I started photographing flowers after discovering Toni Catani’s still life. After having exhausted all the resources to obtain reproductions of his work, I decided to make my own. You can see this work here.
Later I photographed flowers in burnt pan bottoms, in ice (before Azuma Makoto!), or behind gelatin, like the one below.
It is therefore a subject particularly close to my heart and I regularly post my exploratory research on instagram (@vincy.lacroix).
For this challenge, I tried a new track via overlay.
Here’s the easiest challenge: all you have to do is give flowers! Have some delivered, buy some for yourself. Even supermarket tulips have the power to brighten up your home.
At the florist, don’t give in to the temptation of ready-made bouquets. Match the colors by thinking about where you’ll place it or who you’ll give it to. Play with shapes, greenery and volume. Take inspiration from Ikebana, the Japanese floral art, to compose the bouquet at home.
Too expensive? Pick them in the fields or in urban wasteland; these flowers don’t last long, but enough to try some experiments with a scanner or a photo session, even with a telephone. Don’t have a vase? A glass, a salad bowl or even a big mug will do the trick. Metal tubes that you’ve made watertight can highlight unique flowers. Not stable enough? Stick a magnet underneath and attach the tube to a metal plate.
Set up your drawing table, take your crayons, watercolors and gouaches, go ahead and paint! And offer your creations. This one, seen on the street, might give you some ideas!