As I was painting my flowers, I have been looking at flowers by artists I love. Seeing Delacroix’s famous watercolor again (above), I notice that he has invented large elements of his bouquet. The leaves are all very neat and occur in spaces between blooms and are regular in ways that reveal the type of leaf and have none of the random, chaotic crush of leaf and petal that you find in an actual bouquet. He had made numerous studies of single flowers in his notebooks, studying “their architecture,” and it informs how he portrays them. He gets the type and isn’t much interested in individual variation from type.
Van Gogh does something similar but his flowers are more generic still. I think it’s clear that he was looking at the set up one sees in the picture, but he too has made additions and has regularized the flowers. On the whole, though, Van Gogh in his portrayal of flowers over his career does give one the impression that he wanted to portray at least some of the individual differences of one flower verses another. The sheer number of flowers above requires that he generalize in this particular painting.
I ask myself about these things because deep down in my heart of hearts I want to portray individuals, flower by flower. And I find that I cannot do it. Or, at least doing it requires a commitment that I’m unwilling to make, given that flowers are very individual.
I try and it gets me in a bit of trouble sometimes because the real flowers change while you’re painting them. Well, I suppose it doesn’t get me into any trouble that’s obvious to the spectator since they don’t know that the little daisy I painted half open, opened up full a day or so later. What difference does it make? But when I am looking at the bouquet I somehow feel that I must fastidiously record it. It’s called doing due flower diligence.
Probably the most diligent artist EVER was Jan van Huysum.
Huysum’s realism is very deceptive though (marvelous, astounding but deceptive). His bouquet never existed. Huysum created a virtual bouquet by painting flowers one by one that he assembles in his preconceived mental bouquet. So he can take his time and he can put individual blossoms wherever he wishes.
I’m not likely to ever be that diligent. I’ll hang out somewhere between Delacroix and Van Gogh.
Some interesting links below. The Huysum site comes with an amazing zoom. Zoom in to see the awe inspiring details.
And more information about the Van Gogh is available here: