The Chelsea Flower Show, one of the most traditional events of the English summer season, has collaborated with an artist to create an installation for the first time in its 100 year history. The unveiling of Marc Quinn’s ‘The Rush of Nature’ sculpture at the historic horticultural event has inspired us to hold our own celebration of floral art.
British artist Marc Quinn, whose work frequently features flowers and plant life, seems the perfect collaboration choice for the Royal Horticulture Society. The RHS Director General, Sue Biggs, said: “Marc Quinn is one of the most exciting and celebrated contemporary artists today. We are honoured he has created this amazing piece of artwork for us to help the future of horticulture.” His six-foot high bronze sculpture of a moth orchid will be the iconic image for this year’s centenary Chelsea Flower Show.
Marc Quinn has worked for six months on the sculptural recreation of the moth orchid, which grows to just two or three inches in real life. The bronze was cast at the Pangolin Editions foundry in Gloucestershire and was painted with 18 coloured layers, each being stripped back so that every colour is visible. Quinn has created the sculpture to celebrate the garden as an artistic medium, saying “The Chelsea Flower Show has provided flowers and inspiration for my work for many years. To create a garden there is something of a dream come true for me. Especially as it will help such an important cause: our relationship to plants and nature is one of the most important things in all of our lives.”
Because of their varied and colourful appearance and their association with nature, life and decay, flowers have long been a favourite subject of visual artists. Some of the most celebrated paintings in art history are of flowers, such as Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers series and Claude Monet’s water lilies. Apparently the first flower to be used in ancient art was the lotus. It is found on many Egyptian tombs as well as in sculptures from some of the oldest dynasties. Remains of fresco paintings depicting gardens full of flowers were found in the city of Pompeii revealing the Ancient Romans’ fancy for floral art. Perhaps the most revered flowers in western art are those in 16th and 7th century Dutch and Flemish still-life paintings. However, modern art is also replete with floral imagery.
Visit the gallery Flower Show to see the finest floral depictions and decide for yourself which artist deserves the ‘Best in Show’ prize…
Monet, in old age, said he took more pride in his garden than his art and, in particular, the pond of water lilies he grew at Giverny. Monet’s Water Lilies series consists of approximately 250 oil paintings many of which were painted while he suffered from cataracts.
As a plein-air landscape artist, Claude Monet paid close attention to the design, structure and beauty of gardens. He was also fanatical about flowers, he once said, “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers” and “I must have flowers always and always”. The close observations of this committed gardening artist have certainly left a big impression.
Prize: Best Impressionist Bloom
Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.” O’Keeffe is best known for her gigantic flowers and sun-bleached desert bones, which add an architectural element.
Her work explores the connection between flowers and femininity, presenting both the bud and the female body as natural, life-giving and beautiful. A pioneering posy painter, Georgia O’Keeffe’s intense, rich and bold flowers are a modernist masterpiece.
Prize: Floral Feminist of the Year
Andy Warhol often turned to flowers for inspiration, from the blotted-line daisies of the 1950s to the Japanese ikebana prints of the ‘70s. His most famous series of flower paintings, begun in 1964, was based on a photograph of hibiscus blossoms (apparently the photographer attempted to sue). He would drench the flower’s floppy shape with brilliant saturation and the print came in multiple colour schemes of the next 20 years.
This celebrity artist has certainly created a popular bloom and his flourishing flowers have been reproduced with factory-like uniformity.
Prize: Consumer Choice Award
“I work with flowers the whole time but usually the ones I work with aren’t alive,” said Marc Quinn this week. This pigment printing contemporary artist has turned to the natural world to explore his interests in genetic modification, hybridism and modern technology. In ‘Garden’ (2000) he created a walk-through installation of impossibly combined frozen flowers that will never decay so long as the display is connected to a power source. His ‘Eternal Spring’ sculptures feature flowers preserved in perfect bloom by being plunged into sub-zero silicone.
Marc Quinn uses scientific knowledge to transform the flower into a meditation on how the conflict between the ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ has taken a grip on the contemporary psyche. He truely is the space-age gardener of the art world.
Prize: Best Hybrid Horticulturalist
William Morris’ designs are not literal transcriptions of the natural forms he observed in his gardens or on country walks, but subtle stylised evocations. His first attempt at designing wallpaper was inspired by the gardens at Red House (where he moved with his wife in 1860), which were organised on a medieval plan with square flowerbeds enclosed by wattle trellises for roses.
Clearly passionate about flowers, one William Morris poem includes the line “Joy that may not be spoken fills mead and flower and tree.” We admire this crafty artist’s interest in wildlife (The Strawberry Thief) and natural produce (The Vine), as well as his beautifully regimented floral designs.
Prize: 1st in The Brotherhood Bouquet
The Austrian painter and protégé of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele once wrote “I must see new things and investigate them. I want to taste dark water and see crackling trees and wild winds. I want to gaze with astonishment at mouldy garden fences.”
The ‘mouldy fence’ says a lot about Schiele’s approach to gardening. His sunflower paintings are tinged with the indelible mark of imminent decay. It is amply evidenced that Egon Schiele’s sunflowers are past their peak bloom by their darkened centres and droopy leaves. However, they are the ideal motif for the artist who coined the maxim “Everything is living dead.”
Prize: The 20th Century Decay Award
We bid you adieu from your visit to the gallery Flower Show with this adorable garden gnome designed for the RHS Campaign for School Gardening by artist Rob Ryan…
The Marc Quinn sculpture at the heart of his Chelsea Flower Show installation will be auctioned in association with Sotheby’s in a silent auction over the course of a week to help raise £1m for of the RHS Chelsea Centenary Appeal. You can participate in the Sotheby’s silent auction of ‘The Rush of Nature’ via the RHS website until 23.59 on Sunday 26th May 2013.