In Bloom, Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism (on view at the Denver Art Museum July 19-October 11) celebrates the floral still life. During the 1800s, the still life genre was gaining the approval of contemporary critics and the public.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the context of these paintings is to try to understand the attitudes and thoughts of the artists themselves. The following evocative quotes from Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and others provide fascinating insight into how these artists felt about floral painting and the still life genre in general:
- “It relaxes my mind to paint flowers. I do not bring to it the same tension of spirit as when I am in front of a model. When I paint flowers, I arrange the tones, I try out different values boldly, without worrying about wasting a canvas.”
- "What seems to me to be one of the most important things about our movement is that we have freed painting from the tyranny of subject-matter. I am free to paint flowers and call them flowers, without having to weave a story round them.”
- “(T)o make a painting representing things as they are found in nature . . . (I) put a great deal of thought into the arrangement, but with the idea of making it look like a natural arrangement of random objects. This is an idea that I have been mulling over a great deal: giving the appearance of a total lack of artistry.”
- “Never have I had more ideas about Art in my head, and yet I am forced to do flowers. While painting them—standing before the peonies and roses—I think of Michelangelo. This cannot go on.”
Vincent van Gogh
- “I am working at it every morning from sunrise on, for the flowers fade so soon, and the thing is to do the whole in one rush.”
- “(A) painter can say all he wants to with fruit or flowers or even clouds.”
- “Bring a brioche, I want to see you paint one: still life is the touchstone of painting.”
- “When I am able to paint again, if I have no imagination, I shall do some studies of flowers . . . . It is a great pleasure for me."
- “ . . . I think that nothing is more difficult for a true painter than to paint a rose, since before he can do so, he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.”
Learn what the critics had to say about still lifes.
Image credit: Vincent van Gogh, Vase of Flowers (detail), summer 1890. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).