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Title

: Flowers Bloom in Winter

Author

Christian A. Peterson

Date

1998

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Historically, flowers have been richly symbolic. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, for example, flowers represented everything from purity (the lily or iris) to martyrdom (the red rose) and grief (the dandelion). The ancient Greeks called their goddess of flowers Chloris, and the ancient Romans called theirs Flora.Although artists have long depicted flowers in the backgrounds of their work, it wasn't until the 16th and 17th centuries that Dutch and Flemish still-life painters made them their primary subjects. At the same time, advances in botany and a widespread interest in gardening led to the publication of illustrated botanicals. Initially these reference books featured woodcuts, but later copper engravings came into favor because they allowed for greater detail. Early in the 20th century, photographs supplanted printed reproductions.In the early 1850s, French photographer Adolphe Braun published a set of 300 albumen prints of flowers that were the direct descendants of earlier botanical engravings. At the turn of the century, the first wave of artistic photographers, known as pictorialists, also were intrigued by flowers, showing them in countless still lifes and portraits. Today, creative photographers of every persuasion make images of flowers, from simple black-and-white pictures to highly manipulated color extravaganzas. The exhibition "Fotografs of Flowers" explores the great variety of floral photographs and the tradition of presenting flowers in one of three ways: in nature; in decoration; or in ritual.Some photographers venture into the wild to capture flowers in their natural setting, undisturbed by humankind. Ansel Adams, for instance, appreciated nature's pristine majesty, its spiritual significance, and its intricate details. Others, like Lee Friedlander, search for places where people have left their mark on the natural world. They document the clashes between humanity's attempts to control the land and nature's indomitable power. While one group of nature photographers produces easily understandable pictures, the other creates more challenging images.Some photographers prefer showing flowers as decoration, either with or without people. The human figures are generally women, adorning their bodies with flowers, embracing opulent bouquets, or posing next to vases of their favorite blooms. At the beginning of this century, pictorialists frequently photographed beautiful women with flowers woven into their hair.Often the artist exerts significant control over the finished image. Classic photographers like André Kertész meticulously arranged their still lifes, and contemporary artists like Jane Calvin fabricate scenes that resemble dreamlike states of mind.Since the camera was invented, photographers have documented every human ritual from the cradle to the crave, and flowers figure prominently in these creations. The ultimate symbol of love, flowers are associated with courtship, marriage, death, and most other rites of passage. James Van Der Zee, for example, created a significant portrait of black society during the 1920s and 1930s by photographing thousands of Harlem weddings, funerals, and other family gatherings where flowers were prominently featured.Christian A. Peterson is associate curator of photographs. Sandra L. Lipshultz provided editorial help with this story."Fotografs of Flowers" remains on view in the Harrison Photography Gallery through the Friends' annual "Art in Bloom" celebration. The exhibition closes on May 17, 1998.Related ImagesWilliam Eggleston
American, born 1939
Untitled, 1978
Color coupler print
Gift of American Telephone and Telegraph Co. Lee Friedlander
American, born 1934
Chrysanthemums at Flower Market, Paris, 1972
Gelatin silver print
National Endowment for the Arts purchase grant and miscellaneous matching fundsAdolphe Braun
French, 1812-77
Untitled, about 1854
Albumen print
Ethel Morrison Van Derlip FundAndré Kertész
American, 1894-1985
Chez Mondrian, Paris, 1926
Gelatin silver print
Mr. and Mrs. Harrison R. Johnston, Jr., Fund
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Source: Christian A. Peterson, "Flowers Bloom in Winter: Perfect for late-winter viewing, 'Fotografs of Flowers,'-70 pictures from the museum's permanent collection-beckons with all the splendor and delicate beauty of a summer garden," <i>Arts</i> 21, no. 3 (March 1998): 2-5.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009