Flowers have been an important subject for artists throughout history. In Ancient Egypt, the lotus, which symbolized the sun, was often used in papyrus paintings, amulets and ceramics. In many artistic works of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, floral patterns were used in the background. Flowers were also at times the focal point of the artwork in the Still Life paintings produced by Renaissance artists of 15th and 16th century; and artists of the Dutch Golden Age of 17th century. The 19th century saw the rise of the art movement Impressionism in which the artists often worked en plein air (“outdoors”). This led to many famous paintings in which flowers were captured beautifully. Impressionism was followed by Post Impressionism in which the artists continued to portray flowers both in indoor and outdoor settings. Flowers were also represented in 20th century art movements like Pop Art. Here are the 10 most famous floral paintings of all time in which flowers are the focal point of the artwork.
#10 Bullfinch And Weeping Cherry Blossoms
Artist: Katsushika Hokusai
Katsushika Hokusai is regarded as one of the greatest artists in Japanese history and numerous western artists have been influenced by his works. Flowers and birds were one of his preferred subjects and this painting depicts a small bird known as Bullfinch on a small tree native to Japan known as the Weeping Cherry Tree. The bullfinch is featured in a ceremony conducted at the New Year at Tenjin shrines all over Japan. It is said to protect against misfortune in the coming year. Hokusai here depicts the male, distinguished by its pink marking from cheek to throat. He rhythmically mixes buds with blossoms in the tree highlighting the buds with a cheerful red. Ukiyo-e was a school of Japanese art depicting subjects from everyday life and Hokusai is perhaps its most famous practitioner. This is one of Hokusai’s best known Ukiyo-e prints.
#9 Vase of Flowers
Artist: Jan Davidsz de Heem
Year: c. 1645
Jan Davidsz. de Heem was a Dutch painter who is considered one of the most gifted, versatile and influential still-life artists of his age. Among other things, De Heem depicted flowers, in all their variety, in his still lifes. His work is known for combining a brilliance and harmony of color along with an accurate rendering of objects. The flower paintings of De Heem capture the beauty of flora while at the same time exemplifying the concept of “art is long, life is short“ embodied in Dutch still-life paintings of the 17th century. Vase of Flowers is perhaps the most famous floral artwork of De Heem. In it, he creates a harmonious arrangement by balancing the colors and shapes of thirty-one types of flowers, vegetables and grains. Despite its realistic portrayal, this bouquet could never have existed as the various exotic flowers it contains bloom in different seasons.
#8 Still Life with Flowers on a Marble Slab
Artist: Rachel Ruysch
Rachel Ruysch was the daughter of Frederik Ruysch, a professor of botany. Her artistic talent was recognized early, her career spanned for over six decades and she became the best documented woman painter of the Dutch Golden Age. She achieved international fame in her lifetime and even though she bore ten children, she managed to continue a professional career as an artist. Rachel Ruysch specialized in still life flower paintings and she remains one of the most renowned painters of floral still lifes. Still life with Flowers on a Marble Slab is perhaps her most famous work. It shows various flowers as well as insects. It was pained at the peak of her fame when she was court painter to Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine.
#7 Flowers in a Crystal Vase
Artist: Édouard Manet
Edouard Manet was a French artist who is regarded as a pivotal figure in the history of western art with some even calling him the Father of Modernism due to his radical paintings. During the final six months of his life, at age 51, Manet dedicated all his time to painting a series of floral still-lifes. These paintings depict bouquets that friends brought to his Paris apartment while he was home-bound. “Their cheerfulness may imply Manet’s disdain for conventional and labored emotion; perhaps they testify to the importance of outward appearances – of aesthetic spectacle as the essential distraction from an unpredictable world that holds human existence in its grip”. Though he is more known for his controversial artworks, the flower paintings are an important part of Manet’s oeuvre. Flowers in a Crystal Vase is perhaps the most famous among them.
#6 Flowers in a Vase
Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir is celebrated as one of the greatest modern French painters. Though most known for portraiture, figurative work and his series of voluptuous bathing women, Renoir also created numerous floral paintings. In fact he began his career painting flowers on porcelain for the Sevres workshop. Flowers remained an important part of his oeuvre and these paintings evolved into rich depictions of floral arrangements on canvas by the late 1860s. Renoir liked to paint bouquets of flowers while varying the arrangements, using them as exercises on shapes and colors. He also paid great attention to positioning and perspective. Several of Renoir’s most beautiful paintings are flower pieces and Flowers in a Vase is perhaps the most famous among them.
#5 Black Iris III
Artist: Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe was the leading figure in American Modernism. She challenged the boundaries of artistic style with her paintings, which combined abstraction and representation. She is most famous for her dramatically large, sensual close-up of flowers which essentially made them into abstract works. O’Keeffe’s flower paintings, which depict flowers as if they are being seen through a magnifying lens, allowed the viewers to appreciate the flower’s beauty with all its details like never before. Some of these paintings were controversial as they were considered veiled representation of the female flesh. Her iconic depictions of irises are among them. However, O’Keeffe denied the these allegations and said that she was just painting what she saw. Black Iris III is the most controversial as well as the best known painting of a flower by Georgia O’Keeffe.
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh, one of the most renowned artists in history, had a difficult life marred by mental instability. He ultimately shot himself in the chest with a revolver and died two days later. Among Van Gogh’s most celebrated works are his paintings and prints of Irises and this painting is the most famous among them. He painted it in the year before his death and referred to it as the “the lightning conductor for my illness” as he felt his work was his hope against becoming insane. In September 1987, Irises was sold for $53.9 million making it the most expensive painting ever sold. Its record stood for about two and a half years and, as of 2018, it ranks 25th in the list of most expensive paintings ever sold if you adjust for inflation. Van Gogh is considered as a great master in the landscape genre as well as in floral paintings and Irises is one of his most famous works.
Artist: Andy Warhol
Pop Art was an influential 20th century art movement in which artists focused on modern popular culture and the mass media. Andy Warhol was an American artist who is known as the Pope of Pop Art. At a time when he was concentrating on consumerism, celebrity, death and disasters, the Flower series of Andy Warhol was a complete departure for the artist as it depicted a completely different subject. This is one of seven monumental-scale paintings of flowers by him. Even through the Flower series is not Pop Art, it remains one of the most famous works of Warhol. The source image for the series was a photograph published in the 1964 issue of Modern Photography taken by the nature photographer Patricia Caulfield. Ironically for an artist known for his images of brands, Warhol was sued by Caulfield for unauthorized use of her image of flowers.
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is considered a master of still life paintings and his series of paintings on “sunflowers“ rank among the most famous still life paintings ever created. The paintings are well known for depicting the natural beauty of the flowers and for their vibrant colors. They show the sunflowers in all stages of life, from full bloom to withering. The above painting, which is titled Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, was sold to a Japanese investor for almost $40 million in March 1987. This was, at the time, a record-setting amount for a work of art. The price was over three times the previous record of about $12 million. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers series is not only one of his best known works but also one of the most renowned portrayal of flowers.
#1 Water Lilies
Artist: Claude Monet
Year: 1896 – 1926
Impressionism was one of the most influential movements in modern art. Its artists focused on capturing the momentary effect of a scene rather than accurately depicting it. The “Nympheas” or Water Lilies series of Claude Monet has been described as “The Sistine Chapel of Impressionism”. It consists of approximately 250 oil paintings which were created by Monet during the last 30 years of his life. They are now on display in museums all around the world. The dazzling complexity of color and light in the panels opens the viewer’s eyes to the incredible diversity of nature and to the depth and mystery of the life it sustains. An amazing thing about these works is that Monet’s eyesight was badly deteriorating due to cataract while he painted most of these masterpieces. Claude Monet’s water-lily paintings are among the most recognized and celebrated works of 20th Century art and they perhaps the most famous flower paintings of all time.