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Flower Photography

 

Flower Photography

The medium of photography seems to be the absolute perfect medium for capturing the fleeting nature of blooms and blossoms. It is no surprise that as early as the late nineteenth century, that process veered into an artistic interpretation of nature's most precious gifts.

Karl Blossfeldt (1865 – 1932) worked as a photographer, sculptor, teacher, and artist in Berlin, Germany. He is best known for his close-up photographs of plants and living things, published in 1929 as, Urformen der Kunst. He was inspired by nature and the ways in which plants grow and believed that the plant must be valued as a totally artistic and architectural structure. He even developed a series of home-made cameras that allowed him to photograph plant surfaces in unprecedented magnified detail.

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) occupies a singular position in the history of American art of the twentieth century. For over half the history of photography, she explored- with innovation and a new perspective- all the major traditions associated with the medium as fine art. She is most widely acclaimed for the photographs made during the 1920s and 1930s, particularly close-up images of plants and nudes. She also made portraits which are now considered classics in photography, including images of Alfred Stieglitz, Spencer Tracy, and Martha Graham. Cunningham was a member of the California-based Group f/64, known for its dedication to the sharp-focus rendition of simple subjects.

Irving Penn (1917 – 2009) was an American photographer known for his fashion photography, portraits, and still lifes. Penn's career included work at Vogue magazine, as well as independent advertising work. In 1967, art director Alexander Liberman commissioned him to shoot a still life series of flowers for the December edition of American Vogue. Using his signature compositional clarity, the influential image-maker eschewed the sentimentality so commonly associated with blooms, for a stark focus on structure, texture, palette and anatomical function. The result is iconic and unforgettable.

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989) is known for his sensitive yet blunt treatment of controversial subject-matter in the large-scale, highly stylized black and white medium of photography. His floral still lifes, a series of up-close photographs of the beautiful, hairy blooms in all of their fragility and vivid power, draw on a rich and storied history of artists depicting flora – and yet, they’re also in possession of an intense and magnetic sensuality.

Renowned San Francisco gallery Modernism will join the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show this year. Among their offerings will be the work of Robert Stivers (1975), whose successful career as a professional dancer was abruptly thrown to a halt when he suffered a traumatic back injury, shifting his artistic focus to choreography, and then ultimately to photography. Rebecca Klein from Picture Magazine writes: “Robert’s out-of-focus photography technique has separated him as a unique and innovative photographer. In the beginning, this decision to print soft focus images was a means of breaking away from conventional photography techniques. Now, it has become a way of expressing himself within themes such as loss, memory, rapture, eroticism, death and rebirth. His methodology has grabbed the attention of many, and his talent is eminent. Robert Stivers is one of the best fine art photographers living today.”

Below left:

Big Rose, 2012. Signed & dated verso, uniquely toned gelatin silver print; No. 3 of Edition: 15

Below right:

Sunflower, 2010. Signed & dated verso, uniquely toned gelatin silver print; No. 10 of Edition: 15

Wildflowers

 

The Flower Power universe is vast, and populated with innumerable species, running the gamut from humble to ostentatious, from petite and delicate to overwhelming and in-your-face. Receiving an artfully arranged bouquet and chancing upon a field of wildflowers can provoke equal delight. 
One person's weed is another person's wildflower. Yet wildflowers have a quaint and understated beauty that often plays second fiddle to larger, fancier flower varieties. Like the quiet pretty girl at the dance who doesn’t draw attention to herself, wildflowers wait patiently to be noticed, and once you do, you’ll be drawn to their delicate beauty again and again.

Poppies belong to the Papaveraceae family. One species of poppy, Papaver Somniferum, is the source of the crude drug opium which has been used since ancient times as an analgesic and narcotic medicinal and recreational drug. It also produces edible seeds. Following the trench warfare which took place in the poppy fields of Flanders during World War I, poppies have become a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died during wartime.
From Los Angeles Fine Art Gallery: Les Coquelicots by George Averhals, Belgian School (1906-1975)

Hollyhocks or Alcea Rosea are the epitome of cottage garden plants. These stately towers of flowers bloom for a long time in summer in a wide variety of colors. Chances are you’ve seen them alongside a barn, in front of a cute cottage-style house, or gracing the front of a white picket fence.
From Los Angeles Fine Art Gallery: Garden Scene with Hollyhocks by Leonie Mottart Van Marcke, Belgian School (1862-1936)

The English daisy or Bellis Perennis carpets the ground with tufts of small spoon-shaped leaves, which can be evergreen in mild-winter regions. Flowers on this daisy feature a bright yellow button center surrounded with a fringe of narrow petals. In floriography, daisies represent innocence, purity, and cheerfulness.
From Lawrence Jeffrey Estate Jewelers:  Black Starr & Frost natural river pearls & peridot daisy brooch, circa 1890

The edelweiss or Leontopodium Nivale, is a mountain flower that grows in rocky limestone places at high altitude. It has been used traditionally in folk medicine as a remedy against abdominal and respiratory diseases. According to folk tradition, giving this flower to a loved one is a promise of dedication.
From Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry: Edelweiss brooch with petals composed of freshwater “wing” pearls centered by a trio of small round brilliant-cut diamonds, 1950's

In the words of Lady Bird Johnson: “Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart!”

Lights, camera, action!

 

The cinematic world is certainly not immune to the effects of Flower Power. Throughout the years, various blooms have served as key plot points - both symbolic and literal - and memorable visual storytelling tools. Here are just a few examples:

One of the most iconic images in cinematic history is that of Mena Suvari laying naked on a bed of crimson red rose petals in American Beauty. This 1999 Oscar winning drama was the master work of director Sam Mendes. Its title had a double meaning. The American Beauty is one of the most famous cultivated roses in history, a creation of Henri Lédéchaux in France in 1875. It is not only one of the best-selling rose varieties each year for Valentine’s day in the United States but also the symbol of the District of Columbia.

In Big Fish hopeless romantic Edward Bloom, played by Ewan McGregor, “tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories.” In one of the movie's most mesmerizing scenes, Bloom makes a grand and surreal attempt to secure the girl of his dreams by planting an endless sea of bright yellow daffodils outside her window. 

Every fashionista fantasizes about being Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, a mousy librarian reimagined as glamorous model by fashion photographer Fred Astaire. Their photoshoot at the Paris flower market is the stuff of dreams.

And who can forget Jay Gatsby's offering of a roomful of blooms to his beloved Daisy in the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio? The scene is so lush, it is easy to imagine the overwhelming, intoxicating scent in the room.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is a 1972 American drama film produced and directed by Paul Newman and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same title by Paul Zindel. The title is quite a mouthful and refers both to a science experiment conducted by one of the main characters, as well as to the toxic family environment the film depicts.

White Oleander is a 2002 American drama film directed by Peter Kosminsky chronicling the life of a young teenager who journeys through a series of foster homes after her mother goes to prison for committing a crime of passion – poisoning a lover with the toxic oleander bloom.

Who hasn't sobbed their way through Steel Magnolias? The title of this 1989 American comedy-drama film directed by Herbert Ross suggests the main female characters can be both as delicate as the magnolia flower, and as tough as steel.

The Black Dahlia is a 2006 thriller film directed by Brian De Palma drawn from the novel of the same name by James Ellroy. Both are based on the widely sensationalized 1947 murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, nicknamed The Black Dahlia by the Hollywood press because of her black hair, black attire and the fact that she always wore a dahlia flower in her hair. Perhaps an idea for the opening night gala?

Contain yourself...

 

Influential British horticulturist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll wrote in Flower Decoration in the House (1907)
“There are some English words which have no equivalent in French, but then there are a great many more French words ... for which we have no English. One of these is jardinière. Even in French it does not quite rightly express its meaning, because the obvious meaning of jardinière is female gardener, whereas what we understand by it is a receptacle for holding pot-plants”.
Befitting the Flower Power theme, there will be quite a few such ornamental containers or stands for holding plants and flowers at the 2017 San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show, from a variety of periods and in a wide range of styles:

From Carlton Hobbs: a rare and massive pair of faïence jardinières attributed to Philippe Mombaers or Jacques Artoisenet, Brussels, second quarter of the 18th Century.

From Jesse Davis Antiques: a striking Minton majolica passion flower motif jardiniere and rare underplate, finished in a turquoise glaze ground trailed with abundant passion flower blooms and adorned with lion mask handles. English, circa 1860.

From Jill Fenichell: a pair of monumental Villeroy & Boch jardinieres painted by Warth, dated 1888.

From Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge: a Chinese export large Canton rose medallion porcelain cache-pot and stand, circa 1840-1860.

From Antonio's Bella Casa: a richly carved Venetian, raised wood planter edged with cascading fronds on a matching base, circa 1935.

Floriography

 

Floriography aka the language of flowers is a means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers. Its popularity soared in Victorian England and in the United States during the 19th century. Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken aloud in Victorian society – call it the Victorian version of emojis. 
(image via Feri Tradition)

Dictionaries and books on the subject became widespread and everyone was searching for the perfect flower to present in a situation according to its given meaning. Some definitions had mythological roots, others were derived from hedge witch traditions, and a few seemed completely random – and sometimes contradictory, this was certainly not an exact science...
(image via Planterra Conservatory)

In its heyday, this flower language was easily expressed with nosegays (also called tussie mussies), bouquets of flowers and herbs carried by proper women to alleviate the effects of lowly odors - as regular bathing was not yet a common practice. Depending on the flowers included in the bouquet, these could convey a myriad of concepts and desires. Not only did the individual flowers hold meaning, but the way they were arranged together could also tell a story or communicate a deeper meaning: from love, admiration and sympathy to jealousy, disgust and denial – it could all be expressed through flowers. This floral language eventually pervaded every aspect of  Victorian life, as flowers were depicted on fabric, china, stationary, jewelry, and even in the naming of daughters for whom certain expectations and characteristics were sought. Think about that next time you meet a Violet, Lily or Iris.
(image via Amino Apps)

Andrew Gn

 

The San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show is thrilled and proud to have renowned fashion designer Andrew Gn as its honorary chair. The youngest son of a close-knit, cosmopolitan family, Andrew was born in Singapore and had an enlightened education encompassing the classics of Western civilization and Asian cultures and languages. History and art were favorite subjects. Andrew was immersed in the world of antiques through his parents who were connoisseurs. Collecting antique furniture, porcelain and textiles soon became one of his serious pursuits. In his own words “World class antiques shows with top-notch dealers are like ephemeral private museums. Once sees art which might never appear again in a lifetime. I find this discovery so exciting, I can connect with dealers whom I do not know, and maybe add to my own collections?”
(Portrait by Anne Combaz, pre-fall 2017 fashion image via vogue.com)

Andrew opened his eponymous fashion house in Paris in 1996, after a year as first assistant to Monsieur Emanuel Ungaro. His experience at Ungaro, along with fashion design studies at London’s famous Saint Martin’s School of Art, plus a Master’s from Milan’s prestigious Domus Academy, endowed him with incomparable training, precision, technical skill and discipline. His sense of beauty, quest for perfection and optimistic determination are all Andrew’s own.
(spring 2017 ready-to-wear fashion images via vogue.com)

As to the San Francisco's show's Flower Power theme, Andrew said the following: “Other than art, flowers are another great passion of mine. They often serve as a source of inspiration for my work. One gets so much joy living with flowers in all forms, you can’t get tired of them.” Sure enough, like any gardener who must give his flowers a stage, the designer plants his within his beautiful fabrications: woven and embroidered in glorious colors, micro-beaded and painstakingly rendered in precise clusters of square sequins or cut from delicate swaths of chiffon and organdy. Breathtaking!
(close-up on spring 2017 accessory via Andrew Gn)

Q & A with Floral Chair, Dan Zelen

 

When reflecting on this year's FLOWER POWER theme, we decided to sit down for a chat with our go-to flower afficionado and Floral Chair, Dan Zelen. An interior and exterior designer with an appreciation for natural materials, subtle colors, and antique style, he creates stunning floral arrangements that take all aspects of a space and its inhabitants into consideration.

As the Show's long-time Floral Chair, Dan brings together the Bay Area's finest floral designers who generously donate their skills and beautiful fresh flowers to create arrangements that compliment the vision of our Exhibitors' booths. 

As Floral Chair, what do you love most about The San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show?

Connecting the many Exhibitors with the florists from the Bay Area and seeing the creativity of arrangements donated to each booth has been the most enjoyable. The combination of exquisite art and antiques with creative florals adds another dimension of interest and is another wonderful virtue for the Show and for this city to be proud of.

The 2017 Show theme is FLOWER POWER: Floral Imagery in Art, Antiques & Design. As a floral designer, what does the theme mean to you?

It recognizes that flowers have been a part of art and ornament in almost every culture throughout history.  Even in modern design and art, flowers are a timeless element.

What do the floral arrangements bring to the Show?

Many Exhibitors sell garden and floral containers, and showing them filled with an arrangement often sells the container. The addition of a floral arrangement with furniture also adds a living aspect to a booth as well as a softness that hints at how the piece might appear in a home.

What are your favorite flowers to work with in the fall?

Spider Mums are my favorite fall flower. The shape of the petals reminds me of fireworks exploding in a wide array of colors, and they have a long-lasting elegance perfect for any floral design.

What kind of things do you take into consideration when designing a bouquet for an Exhibitor’s booth?

I always create designs that accentuate an Exhibitor’s booth and their antiques. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of creating elegant arrangements for jewelry exhibitors as well as creating Ikebana inspired florals for Japanese antiques – totally different booths and looks. The challenge of creating arrangements for specific antiques is something that I really love to do.

What are key things to keep in mind when creating floral arrangements for a room?

I always ask a client what color they hate first and if they are opposed to fragrance. That always seems to get an answer. I take my cues from the style of room, the colors in a space, and often I like to add to a color that is not in the room at all, but that works so the flowers stand on their own while in total harmony with the space. I often look at my client’s attire, and I am not afraid of looking in their closet to see what color shoes or handbags are there… that’s always a clue to a person's love for color.

What’s your favorite flower?

I have two favorites. Lily of the Valley flowers are available in San Francisco for such a short amount of time that I snap them up as soon as they become available. For so much scent to come from such a tiny stemmed flower is intoxicating to me. Garden roses are my favorite flowers that are available all year in the California flower markets. They are luxurious in shape and smell, and they continue to look beautiful even as they begin to die.

How would you classify your style of floral arranging? 

I have always been intrigued by Constance Spry for her fearless combinations of foraged elements in classical designs paired with beautiful containers. I hope that I create different styles for different times, places, and moods, always adding something in my work that is not expected… an element of surprise in some way.

 

To view a list of the 2017 Floral Designers, please visit our Florists page here. Stay tuned for upcoming Q&A's with other prominent voices from the art, antiques, and design world leading up to the big Show!

 

Flora and Botanica

 

A flower's appeal is in its contradictions — 
so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, 
so small in size yet big in beauty, 
so short in life yet long on effect. 

Mankind has forever been fascinated with the fleeting nature of flowers and blooms; their temporary beauty makes them all the more desirable and thus a favorite subject to immortalize in art and decorative objects. What better material to choose for such a noble endeavor than a relative from the natural world? Wood floral carvings, marquetry and inlay from different time periods can found throughout history and throughout the world, each unique yet all sharing the common goal of memorializing nature's loveliest gift.

From Carlton Hobbs:
A very rare painted and gilded tree pedestal in the manner of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, probably Rome, 17th century.

From Butchoff Antiques:
A very fine enclosed cabinet of the Aesthetic Period, firmly attributed to Jackson & Graham of London, and constructed using the very finest and rarest woods, including a beautifully grained coromandel as the ground wood, with ebony, palm wood, thuya, zebra, and several specimen woods.

From epoca:
A finely inlaid anglo-indian octagonal traveling table, circa 1880, with octagonal top centering an inlaid stylized floral medallion within a foliate band.

From Jayne Thompson Antiques:
A long oak coffer of paneled construction. Each of the four panels across the front are deeply carved with a floral motif. English, 17th Century.

From The Zentner Collection:
An exceedingly rare and elegant rootwood study of a blossoming peony branch, from a private Japanese collection. Circa 19th century.

No shrinking violet

 

A charming yet diminutive flower, the violet has stood for a whole array of meanings, many to do with color, many to do with its gentle size and appearance. Beginning with Christianity, the title Viola Odorata means Our Lady of Modesty, and so this flower is often associated with Mary's humble nature and devotion. 
Below: from Patrick and Ondine Mestdagh, from a rare and interesting group of 50 watercolors of plants and herbs, French or Belgian, circa 1900

In ancient Rome, violets were common funeral flowers that represent remembrance. To this day, violets and purples are considered colors of mourning in many cultures. During the middle ages, monks called violets an Herb of the Trinity because they have three primary colors. They also named the flower heart's ease as it was used to treat heart disorders.
Below: from Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry, an enchanting array of iridescent pink, lavender and green shimmers from the five petals of this exceptionally lovely pansy flower, centered with a sparkling European-cut diamond. Masterfully crafted, circa 1900-1915 by Crane and Theurer of Newark, NJ.

Violets were incredibly popular in Victorian times. They were eaten, candied, in cakes and pastries, and they were at the heart of the cut flower boom: violet-sellers would stand on street corners, selling nosegays and bunches which women pinned to their dresses and men tucked in their hat brims or wore on their lapels. And Victorian women – who were big on that so-feminine hobby of flower-pressing – pressed violets into scrapbooks, picked on leisurely country walks through woods where violets 
flourished.
Below, from Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry
Left - An early Victorian memorial pin, an extraordinary keepsake from the sentimental 19th century. Preserved under glass is a lovely flower in full blossom, lovingly crafted from human hair and painted over shimmering mother of pearl. 
Right - An enchanting Art Nouveau pansy pin featuring shimmering Plique-a-Jour (translucent) enamel petals which effectively emulates the look of frosted crystal. Emeralds and a .55 carat European-cut diamond beams from the center of the this fabulous bejeweled flower, finely crafted in platinum over gold, circa 1900.

Today's renewed interest in organic farm-to-table resources and foraging has put wild violets in the spotlight again: they are rich in vitamins A and C and can be added to salads to add color and an unexpected sweet flavor. Bon appétit!
Below: Image via Girl in an Apron

Ikebana

 

One of the most poetic and powerful expressions of Flower Power can be found in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Much more than a stylish undertaking, Ikebana is really a philosophy/art hybrid: the discipline of arranging cut flowers, branches, leaves and grass to form a three-dimensional work of art that reflects the arranger’s spiritual understanding of the world. There is most definitely a meditative quality to this art form. Seasoned designers realize not only the importance of silence, but also the importance of space, which is not meant to be filled, but created and preserved through the arrangements. This ties into other principles of Ikebana including minimalism, shape and line, form, humanity, aesthetics, and balance.
Below: image via Contacto Japon

In Japan, flower arrangements are used as decorations on a level with paintings and other art objects. This remarkably high development of floral art in Japan can be attributed to the Japanese love of nature. In principle, ikebana aims not at bringing a finite piece of nature into the house, but rather at suggesting the whole of nature, by creating a link between the indoors and the outdoors.
Below: images via Stichting Kunstboek

This art form casts a whole new light on the use of floral containers as they are chosen to complement the concept and lines of the arrangement. Virtually any vessel can be turned into an ikebana container with the help of a kenzan (a flower frog) to hold the flowers in place. 
Below: images via Kinfolk

For many of its practitioners, Ikebana is a lifelong lesson, a way to achieve a little inner stillness in which to work towards a richer spiritual understanding of the world, just like the Zen monks do through their meditation techniques. A classic Ikebana text lists the ten virtues of an Ikebana master, powerful indeed:

Do not discriminate
Develop a peaceful mind
Develop a selfless mind
Develop a graceful mind
Make friends without words
Seek a closeness to the Divine
Learn about plants
Gain respect
Be aware of scents all the time
Dismiss any harmful thoughts

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