National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

From Botany to Bouquet: Flowers in Northern Art

Exhibition Brochure | Brochure Images


Page OnePage TwoPage ThreePage Four

From Botany to Bouquets: Flowers in Northern Art

 Dutch and Flemish still lifes of flowers epitomize some of the finest qualities of paintings from the Golden Age of the seventeenth century. The artists who created these works could convey the delicacy of blossoms, the organic rhythms of stem and leaf, and the varied colors and textures of each and every plant. They could capture the fragile beauty of flowers and the sense of hope and joy that they represent. Their bouquets come alive with flowers that seem so real we almost believe that their aroma, and not the artist’s brush, has drawn the dragonflies and bees to their petals.

The great appeal of flower paintings stems not only from their lifelike qualities but also from the fascinating philosophical issues they raise about the relationship of art to nature, to poetry, and to life itself. These artists sensitively combined various species of flowers, among them tulips, roses, columbine, and lilies of the valley, in pleasing and dynamic compositions that feel true to life. Yet many of the bouquets they painted could never have existed in nature since the flowers they imaginatively combined would not have blossomed at the same time of the year. Indeed, the artist’s ability to create effects that Nature could not equal was often extolled by contemporary patrons, poets, and critics.

 This exhibition brings together a select group of paintings of flower bouquets by many of the greatest still-life artists of the period, including Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573 - 1621), Roelandt Savery (1576 - 1639), Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568 - 1625), Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606 - 1683/1684), and Jan van Huysum (1682 - 1749). Although every painting and drawing in this exhibition can be enjoyed individually, their juxtaposition reveals that artists often approached their still lifes differently, creating works that range widely in mood and intent. Some painters preferred to emphasize the individuality of the various blossoms while others focused on the overall integration of compositional elements that make up their bouquets. It is evident, however, that a general stylistic evolution does exist for Dutch and Flemish flower painting. The small-scale, restrained images created at the beginning of the seventeenth century eventually gave way to the large, opulent bouquets of the early eighteenth century.

Page OnePage TwoPage ThreePage Four