The World of Arts:
English painters' passion for flowers
Very often, the English painter is considered to lack imagination,
especially visual imagery. This is a myth maintained down the line even
from their Masters. Never a lover of British art, I for one, still
maintain English painting to lack depth, character and colour-mix. Even
in a scenic painting, the lush burgeon never come up the way they are.
‘In a Shoreham Garden’ by Samuel
at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
There is less passion and vivacity lost, except for a few painters
who have made their mark. Flowers in particular, did appeal to some
Masters and have put life, vigour and colour into their art. Strikingly,
the English painter has improved perhaps innovated by their counterparts
around the world. The bolder ones broke away from convention and sailed
into 'naturalism' and still later to modern and contemporary art and
caught the imagination of the world.
There were important and talented painters and many were the leading
types in British art but far and wide most of them lacked the fiery
extraordinary talent found in Italian and French painters.
Even today, they are not within a striking distance to their
prodigious achievements. The English painter was never influenced by
mythological and classical sources.
They failed to combine technical competence and rich artistic
imagination, a cause that still prevail. One thing in fairness to
British art is that its painters maintained and fiercely guarded there
own identity. Yet, they were able to blend aesthetic harmony into their
art and hold on to visual imagery as they were and thereby maintained
the authenticity in what they painted. I always thought the English
painter had a soft heart towards flowers. Apart from painting, the
Englishman is the best horticulturist in the world. They rave about
flowers in their writing with William Shakespeare leading the way. Among
the many English painters of the past I have picked at random are:
Mary Moser (1744-1819). Engraver Michael Moser's daughter, Mary
trained as a painter. In 1759, she was awarded a medal in water colour
and a gouache of flowers by the Royal Society of Arts which was
precursor of the RA. The painting hangs in the RSA today. She was a
profuse painter of flowers and it is on this that her reputation rests.
She also painted portraits and historical subjects. They are less
significant. Seven of her paintings that were very significant and
extraordinary hangs in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Her paintings are
essentially what she has created after observation and minute studies.
‘Still Life of Flowers’ by Mary Moser
at the Briggmman Art Gallery.
Moser had the tendency to use dark backgrounds and tones that became
her style and signature. Mary Moser was one of the two floral painters
admitted to the Royal Academy. Both she and her father became founder
members of the Royal Academy. In 1790, she received the patronage of
Queen Charlotte who was an avid botanist and commissioned her to
decorate an entire room at Frogmore House in Berkshire.
Especially during Moser's lifetime, as a genre flower painting had
its origin in medical books and in religious painting.
With the development of botanical science flower painters worked
closely with horticulturists. But with time, flowers were replaced by
that of the transience by the academics.
Samuel Palmer (1805-1881). Palmer was not a great painter of flowers.
But when he moved from London to Shoreham, a village in Kent in 1826, he
developed a passion towards the burgeon around him that included
At fourteen, he had his first exhibition at the RA. He painted
everything that caught his eye around the village until five years later
when he met his wealthy patron, John Linnell who introduced him to
William Blake. It was during this period that Palmer was looking around
for inspiration. Though Blake was essentially a woodengraver, he dabbled
in water colour and produced outstanding landscapes. However, Palmer
learn from Blake how to emphasise features and heighten textures. These
he applied on flowers but they were not a success. Kent landscapes were
steeped in Christian mysticism and they did not appeal to him. He did a
small number of oil paintings and abandoned pastoral influence that was
choking him. He let go naturalism when he settled to paint his most
famous art work, 'In a Shoreham Garden' in 1826-30. It was a glorious
blaze of colour dominated by cherry blossoms.
The curving tree trunk is as sensuous as the swelling blooms in a
riot of gold. Palmer married John Linnell's daughter that offered him a
trip to Italy to study art.
‘Iris Seedlings’ by Sir Cedric Morris
the Tate Gallery, London.
He broke away from his visionary mode that resulted in his pastrol
water colour illustration of Milton's L'Allegro. It liberated him from
Sir Cedris Morris (1889-1982). He painted the world's most famous and
best loved flower painting, Iris Seedlings in 1943.
Cedric Morris was born in Swansea that I visit annually to holiday
with my brother and Morris is no stranger to me.
The people of Swansea adore him and call him as an icon son of their
soil. He came from a family of prosperous industrialists with a staple
collection of Gainsborough, Hogarths and Reynolds and Romneys.
His great, great grandfather had created a baronetcy whose title
Morris was to assume in 1947 after being knighted. Not a great scholar
though a son of a coal magnate, he went over to USA and Canada before
enrolling at the Royal College of Music. In 1914, he moved over to Paris
to attend art school which was cut short by the outbreak of the first
He emphasised the primacy of the subject and presented birds and
flowers in traditional combine with modernism. He used the freedom of
expression and his approach was keenly based on observation because he
was a non-academic. His brush strokes were vivid and free and when
painting flowers, Morris reduced certain portions of flowers and leaves
to convey his direct style as the near ferocity of their life.
Morris's favourite flower was the iris and his passion for them made
him group all varieties and colour together and create the masterpiece
he left behind in the hearts of all art lovers, Iris Seedlings.
Morris was known to be a breeder of Irises. In 1940, he moved over to
Suffolk and created a garden inspired by Monet's at Giverny, filling it
with over thousands of Iris seedlings. He created a long list of
'Benton' Irises and seedlings that were passed to British Iris Society.
Many Irises were named after him.