“It is because of flowers, perhaps, that I became a painter.”
~ Claude Monet
The impressionistic approach goes to the heart of how many contemporary painters, especially those who work en plein air, understand painting. That’s an impressive measure of the 19th century movement’s lasting power and influence.
For the Impressionists, painting was largely about capturing fleeting impressions. The artist visually records an emotional response to lived experience directly onto the canvas, working in front of the subject whenever possible.
It’s no surprise then that the Impressionists loved painting flowers. Chasers of beauty, they sought the sparkle and blaze of color and light - sunlit landscapes and dappled gardens delivered.
Throughout the late 19th century, painters built all kinds of floral and still life works around gardens and vases and baskets of blooms. It’s the Impressionists, though, who absolutely brought them to life on canvas.
Not a few of Impressionists were eager gardeners who planted and painted their own blooms. Monet, though, is the world’s most famous painter of flowers; he created much of his iconic series of some 250 water lily paintings in the flower garden of his home in Giverny. His brush strokes conjure blossoms from seemingly random flourishes of gestural paint. See them in person if you get the chance.
When the Denver Museum mounted their 2015 survey In Bloom: Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism, they created a “scent room,” where according to one of the curators, visitors could “experience what Monet might have experienced in his garden.”
There’s a Monet quote that’s become an inspiring meme that goes, “I must have flowers, always and always.” The words sound like a passionate determination to live a colorful life. But I’m pretty sure that Monet never really said them.
Monet definitely said, “What I need most are flowers, always,” in reference to his love of gardening and his home in Giverny. He also seems to have said somewhere, “What I need most of all is color, always, always.” So the meme appears to be a mashup. I’ll leave it to my scholarly readers to sort that through.
Of course, the impressionistic approach, with its built-in love of vibrant color and light, still inspires, as do flowers for that matter. Both remind us that for all its confusion and disappointments, the world we live in can be, and is, a beautiful place.
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