Many times a bouquet of flowers will be arranged as though to get at a perfect order. I arrange the flowers when I paint them. But the random arrangement of weary flowers is lovely too. The flowers bunched along two sides of the vase leaving one green fond striving upward in space alone. That single leaf intersects the purple shadow that descends from the cloth behind the bouquet locking the composition together .
The striped cloth is a marvel to look at. I love to portray it. Its bands describe the shape of the space they occupy like a physics of color. The bands of green along the sides of the gourd running perpendicular to the bands in the cloth are Nature imitating art. Many colors are scattered through this picture and only the precision of their positions gives them balance. In a picture like this one, the only goal is to put each color exactly where it belongs. And then the rest is easy. The picture composes itself. And then the image resembles the things, like a mirror of life.
Striped Cloth with Flowers and Gourd is a pastel painting measuring 18 x 24 inches.
Bold yellow tea roses, a brilliant violet color in the background, a white and blue table cloth along with three bright orange, plump persimmons: these compose the scene with additional help from a jaunty white pitcher in the center that has a single pink painted rose decorating its rondure. Sometimes the colors and positions provoke a mood. This arrangement seemed provocative to me. It feels assertive. I thought the objects seem to speak. It is for each individual spectator to decipher life’s bold messages.
Tea Roses is a pastel painting measuring 20 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches.
Now the blue cloth has an ochre colored, hand thrown, North Carolina pottery vase sitting on its pale, cheerful color against a white wall and the bouquet has grown enormous. Daisies, carnations, chrysanthemums and lilacs are all massed together. And the green leaves of the lilac provide a leafy accent to the big assembly of flowers.
I recall that when I began doing the large bouquets, like this one, my chief concern was how I would ever paint so many flowers in the short time allotted for alla prima painting. It was no use trying to paint them the next day because they all shifted and fidgeted as the hours passed.
But somehow I seemed to have gotten them all into the picture. Let me tell you, though, the pressure was on ….
I painted the flowers in simple patterns, graphic in character — really more a way of drawing with color than of painting. But the jar (actually a drinking glass) packed tightly with the flower’s stems attracted much of my attention. I was consciously emulating the late flower paintings of Edouard Manet, one of which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and which I knew well. I was aware of his other late flower paintings from books.
The white iris, however, that is still Van Gogh’s teaching. My teachers were the Impressionist painters and Van Gogh.
They were good teachers.
The bouquets gradually became more varied. I was buying more flowers, different kinds of flowers. Lilacs were still blooming out in the yard so those got added to the store bought flowers. The blue cloth is still there, but now it creates a lower horizon, and a yellow background lies behind most of the picture.
I switched from the jade colored vase to clear glass. It looks like a jar. I have often favored simple jars for holding flowers. I like the way the stems look through the glass. It would be a theme of some of the subsequent pictures, the ones that come after this one.
I’m not posting the bouquets in order, though. After so many years I have no recollection of the order in which I painted them. I only know that the busier ones came later in the sequence.
I’m wondering if he should be added to the picture up-coming, the bouquet of flowers with the window and the wise old owl. He might make a nice addition.
As currently planned there will be a songbird on the side of a porcelain vase. Adding this fellow means that there will be two songbirds — one flat, one three dimensional. I like that. Don’t know why.
I have been thinking about this picture for months and months. I got a new canvas — a big, brand new, white canvas. I want so much to begin.
Always a balancing act to begin new things, finish old things, keep the everyday chores humming, to adjust my schedule to the calendar I keep with others. But a bit here and a bit there, and incrementally one makes progress.
I am not sure exactly when I’ll start work on the new picture — and it’s the same motif as featured in the post “almost a year ago.” But in this drawing — in this version — the flowers are smaller relative to everything else. And this is the version I’ll do first. I might also paint that other version (who can tell). Somehow, though, this is the one with the magic in it for the present.
I have decided how I’ll start, too. I am going to draw the composition using blue paint, drawing it in lines, just as above I drew the motif using a pen.
It’ll start all blue and white. Then I’ll see where it goes from there.
Two vases of roses sit on a honey colored wooden table. The far edge of the table is visible on one side and the rest is covered by a shimmering yellow-gold cloth. Behind the whole scene is a violet colored cloth. Both vases are abundantly stocked with roses. One bouquet sits in a clear glass jar. The other, a white pitcher, is also filled with numerous roses of many colors. One single spent rose lies flat on the table. Beside it sit three bright orange persimmons. In between the two vases sits a blue pedestal bowl. A few other objects of ambiguous identity sit behind or beside the white pitcher.
This is one of the most complex still lifes I’ve ever painted so far. While it is challenging to capture the flowers since they soon perish, it’s also important to make something of all the relationships of all the things. The design on the cloth, its fold and foreshortening are the gravity of the picture. Everything has to sit upon that gold field and seem to belong there, and to seem as if it might always be there in that forever sense of art. Long after the real flowers have faded and disappeared the appearance of the flowers can still last. And the picture has to hint in the direction of that poetry, has to become a memory of things seen.
Golden: Two Bouquets on a Table is a pastel painting on sanded paper measuring 18 x 24 inches.
Since the Bazille show is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, I’m getting ready to study several of the beautiful flower paintings featured in the exhibit. It’s great good fortune for me that these works are visiting now because doing large flower compositions has been one of my ambitions for a long time. I knew of the early Impressionist flower compositions from books but I haven’t been able to see any of the actual paintings until now.
Above is a flower painting I did many years ago. And below is Bazille’s grande machine of flowers currently in the exhibit.
And here they are side by side (magic of the internet):
I started with the red. Because — red! Just putting the paint down straight from the tube, I enjoy seeing it so beautiful, luminous. This is why I love painting — because color transmits wonder just in itself, even before you do anything.
I’m making a painted version of the pastel still life with flowers, the one with the red cloth. It’s one of my favorites from among the group of pastel still lifes that I did in the fall. I’m thinking that I may do painted versions of my three favorites. Time will tell. Certainly I had to paint the ruby red one.