Famous Flowers in Modern Art

Before color photography, the primary way to capture the otherworldly beauty of buds in bloom was with a brush. Skilled artists throughout history spent hours, days, and sometimes years bringing a single piece of work to life in order to memorialize and celebrate an ethereal moment of time. Yet in current times, we have been so inundated with countless reproductions placed upon mundane everyday objects (mugs, mouse pads, calendars, oh my!) that we too often fail to appreciate the brilliance of these treasures. Here are five such masterstrokes I hope you will never dismiss again.

Vincent Van Gogh, Irises, 1889

Did you know one of the most famous flower paintings known today was actually considered a ‘study’ by the Post-Impressionist artist himself? According to the Getty Museum – where it is currently on display – it was Van Gogh’s brother Theo who recognized its potential. And after seeing the piece it was French art critic Octave Mirbeau who was compelled to write, "How well he has understood the exquisite nature of flowers!" Ironically and tragically, Van Gogh painted it while at an asylum and a year before he ended his life. Yet his genius lives on to inspire us all. On display at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles


Gustav Klimt, Sunflower, 1906-1907

Before ‘The Kiss’ there was ‘The Sunflower’ – perhaps a prequel to Klimt’s most famous opulently gilded Art Nouveau-style portrait of a couple in embrace. Even though ‘The Sunflower’ is a representation of a single sunflower standing tall in all its glory within an abundant garden setting, it certainly contains human-like characteristics and a silhouette Klimt might later rekindle for ‘The Kiss.’ But if you are still not convinced a sunflower can have the power to rapture and romance, note that Klimt did once declare, “All art is erotic.” Private Collection


Claude Monet, Red Water Lilies, 1914-1919

Are there any more famous lilies than Monet’s water lilies? Painted by the grandmaster of the Impressionist art movement at his home in Giverny, France over his last declining years of age and sight, ‘Water Lilies’ is actually a series of over 250 paintings created within his carefully cultivated gardens. And although these masterpieces live on through museums all over the world including the Musée D’Orsay in Paris and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Monet himself declared, “My finest masterpiece is my garden.” At the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco


Georgia O’Keefe, Oriental Poppies, 1927

I have been told (and am enormously humbled) that my work reminds some of the inimitable Georgia O’Keefe’s groundbreaking, intimate portrayals of flowers up close and personal. A contemporary of American modern photographers like Ansel Adams, O’Keefe was able to bring a sensuality to her subjects not before seen and certainly not entirely captured by a camera just yet. She possessed an alluring ability to abstract a flower’s natural form while accentuating its vibrancy in full color. O’Keefe is quoted as saying, “I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.” And so she has. Part of a collection at the University of Minnesota Art Museum


Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1964

Although Andy Warhol is best known for his Pop Art celebrity silkscreen portraits, his ‘Flowers’ series was a sharp departure that surprised many and continues to delight. Village Voice art critic David Bourdon wrote in 1964 that the flowers appear to be afloat, “like cut-out gouaches by Matisse set adrift on Monet’s lily pond.” But unlike the four previously mentioned works above, this series was not created directly from an interaction with nature; Warhol instead used a photograph of hibiscus blossoms he found in a 1964 issue of Modern Photography to create the silkscreen prints (and was later sued by the original photographer Patricia Caulfield). Private Collections and at the MoMA New York

But all in all, as with each of these examples, Warhol says it best of this one: “My fascination with letting images repeat and repeat… manifests my belief that we spend much of our lives seeing without observing.” 

It is my hope that you will see and observe, from now on.