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As long as we have practiced the art form of painting, flowers have always been depicted by artists. Historically, flowers have inspired the work of Pop Artists, Modernists, Impressionists, and the Dutch Realists, to mention some examples. We have put together a small collection of some of the most famous flower paintings in history, to provide you with a decent overview of floral artworks and their origins.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why are Flower Paintings so Popular
- 2 Our Top 15 Paintings of Flowers
- 2.1 Flower Still Life – Ambrosius Bosschaert (1614)
- 2.2 Bullfinch and Weeping Cherry Blossoms – Katsushika Hokusai (1834)
- 2.3 Lilacs in a Window – Mary Cassatt (1880-1883)
- 2.4 Still Life Vase with Twelve Sunflowers – Vincent van Gogh (1888)
- 2.5 Roses and Lilies – Henri Fantin-Latour (1888)
- 2.6 Irises – Vincent van Gogh (1890)
- 2.7 Bouquet of Roses – Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1890-1900)
- 2.8 Flower Garden – Gustav Klimt (1905)
- 2.9 Flowers – Henri Matisse (1907)
- 2.10 Water Lilies – Claude Monet (1908)
- 2.11 Amaryllis – Piet Mondrian (1910)
- 2.12 White Vase With Flowers – Odilon Redon (1916)
- 2.13 Red Poppy – Georgia O’Keeffe (1927)
- 2.14 Flowers – Andy Warhol (1970)
- 2.15 Ready to Blossom in the Morning – Yayoi Kusama (1989)
Why are Flower Paintings so Popular
When presented with the topic, your initial response could be to ask why it is that flowers have such a long-standing tradition as an artistic subject matter. Capturing the fragility and momentary beauty of flowers has been a lifelong obsession for many artists over the ages. As we look past the appearance of flowers and into their purpose we discover that their significance embodies both the idea of fertility and mortality simultaneously. Artists have always dealt with these themes as these ideas and their sentiments carry a universality that we easily access and connect with.
Depending on which period we look at, it is possible to determine a multitude of cultural factors when studying paintings of flowers. A lotus blossom found in the ceramics, jewelry, and papyrus painted images of ancient Egypt, are supposed to symbolize the sun, while during the middle-ages artists regarded ivy to be symbolic of marital commitment. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, floral paintings became popular and botanical artworks developed as their own individual niche. From this period, the depictions of flowers tend to carry symbolism while remaining truly aesthetic.
Our Top 15 Paintings of Flowers
We have arranged our collection of acclaimed floral paintings chronologically. The aim is to aid you in your understanding of how the depiction of flowers with different artistic mediums has developed over the ages. Only 15 works are listed, but there is a myriad of artists who contributed to this practice through history, so we recommend you do more extensive research should you be inclined.
Flower Still Life – Ambrosius Bosschaert (1614)
Ambrosius Bosschaert, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Known as one of the earliest specialists in floral painting, Bosschaert was an innovator of detail in his depiction of dramatic flower arrangements. This made him one of the most famous flower artists. His inspiration behind the Flower Still began by developing a keen interest in botany in Germany and the Netherlands during the 1500s. Bosschaert was a revered Dutch painter who was well-known for his depictions of flowers and fruit in his work. As the leader of a family of artists, his life’s work built the infrastructure to support multiple future generations of Dutch still-life painters.
The majority of Bosschaert’s floral compositions were painted upon surfaces made of copper and, as in this instance, features a vivid level of detail, using symmetry with almost clinical precision. The painting depicts a basket containing a lush flower arrangement on a tabletop with a single yellow tulip, a pink carnation, and a white rose on the table in the foreground, lying separate from the basket. Interestingly, the basket floral arrangement contains flowers that don’t occur in the same season, Lilies of the valley, roses, hyacinth, forget-me-nots, tulips, violets, and cyclamens are placed together with meticulous detail.
The incredibly life-like imagery Bosschaert has created, gives us the sense that we could even feel the texture of the petals or thorns depicted. You can see delicate insects making their way across flowers or sitting poised on the leaves and stems, which breathes further life into the composition. The astonishing level of detail simply cannot be emphasized enough. Even the butterfly’s minute antennae and the translucent wings of the dragonfly are masterfully reproduced.
It is commonly believed among art aficionados and historians that The Flower Still Life is a symbolic reminder of the ephemeral nature of our existence. When harvested, flowers serve as a fleeting reminder of the beauty of earthly living. The exquisitely detailed yet melancholic portrayal of the insects demonstrates the immediacy and sanctity of life. This became one of Bosschaert’s seminal works, as he remains one of the most notable artists to create paintings of flora.
Bullfinch and Weeping Cherry Blossoms – Katsushika Hokusai (1834)
Katsushika Hokusai is recognized today as one of Japan’s most influential artists, and one of the world most famous flower artists. As the foremost exponent of the Ukiyo-e school of Japanese art, the style of his work has become cherished around the world. A great deal of Hokusai’s work depicts birds and flowers like this famous color woodblock print, Bullfinch and Weeping Cherry Blossoms, which forms part of the Small Flowers series. Hokusai’s style is characterized by his highly adept linework, which creates vivid imagery that almost seems animated at times.
This print depicts a diminutive bullfinch invertedly perched, rather acrobatically, from the branch of a weeping cherry tree. In Japanese tradition, the bullfinch is a symbol of protection from misfortune, while the weeping cherry tree is indigenous to Japan. During a Japanese new year ceremony, people at Tenjin shrines across the country venerate the bullfinch in their own way, in the hope to ward off an ill fortune in the year ahead. The placement of Hokusai’s cherry blossoms has a graceful metric to it, accentuated by the scattered specks of red, while the pink markings on the bird’s chest differentiate the male bullfinch from the female. In the blue sky just to the right of the center of the print, a brief poem by Rainban reads:
One single bird, wet with dew, Has come out; The morning cherry
An extremely prominent work of timeless natural splendor, this Hokusai print is a testament to the art of Japan and the elegance of floral paintings.
Lilacs in a Window – Mary Cassatt (1880-1883)
Well-known painter Mary Cassatt is considered to be one of the originators of Impressionism in the USA. Most of Cassatt’s work studies the human form predominantly, but she also had a passion for creating paintings of flowers and garden scenes. Still, life paintings depicting flowers grew in popularity, during the 1860s, among artists of the impressionist movement. Cassatt painted the Lilacs in a Window in the early 1880s when floral painting rose to prominence within Impressionism.
Cassatt did frequently depict floral and landscape elements within her works, but still life paintings such as this one are scarce. Mary Cassatt may not be recognized specifically for her flower artwork, however, this painting still exemplifies her mastery as an impressionist painter.
This expressive painting pictures a vase of lilacs resting next to an open window. The work is a perfect representation of the apex of Impressionist floral painting. The dark eggplant color of the vase creates a contrasting effect against the elegant arrangement of the purple and white lilacs inside. Cassatt’s characteristic fluidity of her brushwork gives the sense that this scene is a singular and short-lived glimpse of momentary bliss.
The angled lines of the window supports the organic character of the flowers, giving even further credibility to their life-like appearance. The scene pictured bears a tranquil and contemplative sensibility as if you happened upon it while exploring a house as a guest.
Still Life Vase with Twelve Sunflowers – Vincent van Gogh (1888)
Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The brilliant and tormented impressionist was an obvious admirer of sunflowers. This still life depicting sunflowers is part of Van Gogh’s Arles series, the first of two studying sunflowers. Regardless of the title, after he subsequently edited this work, the vase in fact contains 15 flowers.
“Still Life Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” is easily the most notable of all floral studies and one of his most widely celebrated works.
This still life is commonly regarded to be one of the most singular and easily recognizable impressionists works ever created. It is also a highly exemplary instance of Impressionist flower painting. The sunflower’s yellow hues immerse the entire scene pictured, leaving the viewer with a lingering sense of warmth and wonder.
Behind the vase, the backdrop of light blue pushes the arrangement to the foreground, allowing you the focus on each of the differently angled flowers in the center. Van Gogh pictured these sunflowers at various stages of decay, echoing his sentiments of the futile and impermanent nature of life and all existence.
Roses and Lilies – Henri Fantin-Latour (1888)
When we compare the impressionist flower works of Fantin-Latour included on this list and those created in his lifetime, his approach was generally more traditional. The origins of his paintings of flowers have a close association with the Realist artistic movement.
The scene Fantin-Latour created in the Roses and Lilies pictures a large clear glass vase of elegant, long-stemmed lilies next to a shallow vase containing an exquisite pink and white rose arrangement, contrasted against a light brown background. The forms of the two flower variants are echoed in the shapes of the vases holding them. The elongated stems of the lilies with their fragile white petals are held perfectly by the taller thin vase, while the decadently shaped roses are arranged in a smaller rounded vase, scarcely noticeable under them.
Regardless of their contrasting height, together, the two floral arrangements create an extremely balanced composition overall. The way the extended stems of the lilies almost reach out above the roses completes the scene flawlessly. The transparency of the glass is captured by Fantin-Latour with such an incredibly detailed sense of realism. The darker shades of the wooden table and the deep pinks of the roses are balanced by the brilliant white of the lilies. The masterful use of shading and color creates a melancholic, romanticized feel and immortalizes this incredible flower artwork.
Irises – Vincent van Gogh (1890)
Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Van Gogh’s work is featured a second time in this collection due to his innate understanding of the flowers symbolically. 2 separate versions of this work exist with differing backdrops, a calming delicate pink shade in one instance, and a more vibrant yellow in the other. The Irises was one of the works created while van Gogh was institutionalized at the psychiatric hospital of Saint-Remy.
The dramatically expressive brushwork used in the intense citron background brings this work to life with the sense of vigor and severity created. The vase of dazzling violet irises contrasts beautifully against the chaotically brazen backdrop, all varying in their state of appearance, some upright and others limp as if lifeless. This vibrant conflict between these two colors is indicative of van Gogh’s own inner turmoil at the time of creating this work and produced a decidedly bold composition as a result.
This work was completed one year before he died, while committed at the psychiatric facility and it is now known that he referred to at the time as “the lightning conductor for my illness.” It is plausible that creating boldly expressive and vigorously animated work was a cornerstone for his sanity and purpose in life at the time. The tragically strong link between creative obsession and madness is undoubtedly evident, and magnificently serene. To this day, we connect with the inner conflict captured within van Gogh’s extremely vulnerable and undeniably human artworks.
Bouquet of Roses – Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1890-1900)
This vividly indulgent depiction by Renoir creates an extremely realistic illusion of dimensionality and texture when beheld. While he may have only taken up painting as an artform much later on in life, he always had an enduring love for roses.
The overall composition of the Bouquet Of Roses makes for an especially immersive viewing experience. The graceful and highly skillful brushstrokes emphasize the wonderful organic quality of the roses, both in form and color with each in varying stages of its life cycle. A single rose lies fallen next to the vase while the rest vibrantly thrive in their exquisite arrangement. The tonal character of the Roses gives them such a sense of depth, you feel you could almost touch the petals.
Flower Garden – Gustav Klimt (1905)
Brilliant color shades are a major component of the floral painting of Gustav Klimt, and his seminal work the Flower Garden stands out as an exemplary piece within a prolific period of his creativity. Part of a series, this work is inspired by the flowers of Litzlberg he observed there.
Many historians regard this as one of Klimt’s finest landscape paintings. The magical scene depicted is a wave of colorfully blooming flowers that appear to stretch beyond the canvas. The splendidly colorful flowers seem to explode in an almost pyrotechnic celebration of nature’s beauty. The slightly abstracted quality of detail gives the work a more dream-like quality as if the scene captured spans a great length of time. The wild character depicted by Klimt here reminds us of the raw beauty of nature as an unadulterated force.
Flowers – Henri Matisse (1907)
The signature use of almost inappropriately bright color, distortion of forms, and apparent lack of dimensionality are hallmarks of the unique works of Matisse. In Fauvism, he was recognized as a distinguished figure and one of the most notable artists of the modern era, Matisse’s work is characterized by balance, innocence, and serenity. These highly relatable human sentiments deify his work and are especially evident in the Flowers.
Matisse completed this work relatively early on in his career, and we can see the beginnings of the characteristics of Fauvism in the purposefully exaggerated color usage and brushwork. The vivid green backdrop is especially complementary to the white of the vase and the stark orange, yellow and red of the flowers it contains. The vase’s reflection captured on the table beneath it, mirrors the brilliance of the flower arrangement depicted, creating a hazy, dreamlike quality.
Water Lilies – Claude Monet (1908)
Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Monet’s Water Lilies is undeniably one of the most famous flower paintings ever created and his name remains synonymous with floral-inspired imagery. Revered for his outstanding series of outdoor impressionist works created in his garden in Giverny, The mastery of Monet flowers lies in the ability to truly capture nature’s very essence.
The almost vague brushwork blends different parts of the composition, allows Monet to timelessly capture the natural environment. With this, one of his most notable works, the forms of the plants, flowers, water, and the sky blend into one another, producing a dreamlike scene. The way Monet flowers capture the sun’s reflection in the water makes historians regard this as one of the most influential works in the formation of Abstract Expressionism. Of course, Monet is one of the most famous artists who paint flowers.
Amaryllis – Piet Mondrian (1910)
As a painter, Mondrian came from a long tradition of Dutch artists who paint flowers. Regardless of the institution that Dutch realism is, Mondrian’s approached the depiction of his Amaryllis with a definitively contemporary feel that would later evolve drastically into the works of the De Stijl movement he is known for today.
The shockingly exaggerated red of the flower is slightly reminiscent of Fauvism, as Mondrian reduces the composition to areas of brilliant color. The effect produced allows the viewer to focus purely on the natural shape and form of the flower – making it one of the most famous flower paintings. Mondrian captures this using watercolor to balance the characteristics of flat and textures use of colors in a move away from the impressionist approach.
White Vase With Flowers – Odilon Redon (1916)
This vivid still life depiction by Redon, the White Vase with Flowers, was created with pastel rather than paint and shows the evolution of the art form. In contrast to past Dutch still life works, the backdrop is a warm surrounding haze that throws the vase forward and into focus.
The arrangement of wildflowers in the foreground stands out boldly in its white vase, away from the bi-colored pink and orange backdrop. A few flowers Redon has created here are exquisitely vivid, while others are vague and abstracted. This contrast in-depth and texture quickly pulls the viewer in, allowing you to study the careful details for hours.
Red Poppy – Georgia O’Keeffe (1927)
Famed for her erotic and sensual famous flower paintings, O’Keeffe produced over 200 floral works over her career. She brought the painting of still scenes to life in a vibrant refreshing way and despite using watercolors early on, she moved on to using oils nearly exclusively after 1918. During this period, she also began to change the way her work was scaled, creating the hallmark magnified character within her work. The vividly sensual Red Poppy is a perfect instance of her work during this period.
O’Keeffe looked deeper into the flower’s delicate makeup and the cycle of procreation suggested by its form and inherent nature. The brilliant red and orange of the petals engulf the frame, transforming a delicate flower into a prominent symbol. When studying O’Keeffe’s works like this one, we are encouraged to look beyond the appearance and into the thematic and symbolic implications suggested by the forms depicted. This makes her work revered today, as some of the most innovative and original within modernism.
Flowers – Andy Warhol (1970)
Renowned pop artist, Andy Warhol, often used flowers as means of inspiring his works. Making use of new methods and vividly inappropriate colors, he began creating famous flower paintings in 1964, focussing on the Hibiscus flower. There was a notable degree of controversy surrounding these works, as the photographer who took the pictures on which they were based attempted to sue Warhol over the matter. In spite of this, these floral works continuously gained notoriety and interest and remain perfect examples of modern flower paintings.
Ready to Blossom in the Morning – Yayoi Kusama (1989)
Japanese conceptual artist, Yayoi Kusama, draws influence from Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, Pop Art, and Feminism. Her experiences of both the psychological and sexual realms permeate through the work she creates, which is easily identifiable with her signature polka dot and net patterned imagery. Kusama uses her work as a means of processing her inner world, providing the audience with a highly immersive and embryonic feel.
Ready to Blossom in the Morning is a lithograph typical of Kusama’s style of work. The pair of individual flowers of pink and yellow seem to float beyond the textured surface of the polka dot backdrop. Her child-like imagery and choice of color carry a joyous feel and make it easily relatable. She is widely regarded as Japan’s most influential artist alive today and is well-known for her famous flower paintings.
Historically, paintings of flowers are a cultural tradition celebrated over and over. These paintings have always been used as an expressive medium, throughout Dutch Realism, Impressionism, and Pop Art. The immediacy of a flower’s life cycle could be the reason they capture the imagination of so many great artists. The styles of art to explore floral imagery are beyond counting so if you found these famous flower paintings interesting, we suggest you venture further.