Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Marie Spartali Flower Painting.

As well as beguiling landscapes, flower painting was another genre that Marie Spartali successfully pursued throughout her career, images which contrast with the delicacy of much of her work by being, in the words of a contemporary, ‘forcible and decisive’ – terms that are seldom applied either to her work or to flower painting in general.

As more or less the lowest genre of art, flower painting has been consistently disregarded and dismissed, except when it appears in seventeenth century Dutch examples, or in works by Van Gogh.  But down the centuries flowers have been among the most popular of subjects and certainly one that appealed to women artists who had less access to travel, to professional models, fully equipped studios or wealthy patrons.

As flowers droop, fade and drop their petals very swiftly, flower painting requires a special set of skills which often go unremarked.  In the 1860s Marie Spartali’s father bought at least one still life from Henri Fantin Latour which is now in the Metropolitan Museum.  Showing lilac blossom and white stocks in a black vase, alongside apples and pears – an unseasonable combination – this rather stiff piece may have inspired Marie when in the mid-1870s she sent several flower pieces for exhibition, in the UK and US.  They included a group of chrysanthemums and hellebore; pairings of roses and lilac, roses and lilies, roses and honeysuckle; and two wild flower subjects, ranunculae (either celandine or buttercups)  and kingcups with blackthorn.

All are apparently untraced;   the flower paintings that are known and thus available for exhibition at Delaware Art Museum seem to date from much later in Marie’s career.  As they remain in family possession they may have been done for her own satisfaction rather than for sale, a guess that is supported by the fact that several are undated.   We have chosen subjects reflecting spring, summer and autumn, and they add a vigorous, colourful dimension to her oeuvre.


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