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The Violet In The Art Of Painting
Produced by The American Violet Society © 2000 All Rights Reserved

    The discreet albeit important place found by the violet in the evolution of the art of painting is the direct result of the flower's color, form and symbolism. Its association with virtues such as modesty and faithfulness finds it in medieval missals and gothic psalters' illustrations, reaching their widest display in The Book of Hours and glorious tapestries such as "The Lady and the Unicorn".

    However, it is in the 15th century, that the violet appears for the first time as an independent theme in German artist Albrecht Dürer's charming,  masterly watercolor design, "A bouquet of violets" .  From Dürer's time on, the violet is used in numerous Renaissance garden paintings, emerging most noticeably at the foot of the Sienna school madonnas. Various collections of botanical illustrations continue the violet's symbolic and pictorial roles until the 18th century when it is suddenly forgotten.  But then, true to form, the violets return most triumphantly in the next century, widely popular thanks to the aesthetic and political efforts put forward by Empress Eugenie of France (Napoleon III's consort).

    The violet's presence is most remarkable in the Impressionist works of Edouard Manet, whose "Bouquet of Violets," ties the flowers, a fan and a note in a subtle ensemble representing the three indispensable accessories that made the love codes of that time. In another work, Manet brings forward the profound hues of the violet's color, placing a somber bouquet of violets on the black dress of Berthe Morisot, his sister in law and fellow artist.

    By the end of the 19th century, most artists had at one time or another tried the violet as a theme, but this was done mostly as an accessory to the ambiance or portraiture art rather than as a study of the flower itself. Good examples of the latter are the works of American Impressionist, Lilla Cabot Perry in her Lady with a Bowl of Violets and Portrait of Mrs. Joseph Clark Drew.

    Conversely, fashionable Victorian painters and amateur artists produced charming and countless renditions of the romantic, ubiquitous bouquet of violets to satisfy the demands of the increasingly popular postcard and advertising industries. Amongst the most famous in this category:  Paul de Longpre, Catherine Klein, J. McFall and Syman Powell.

    Twentieth century art discards the violet's conventional image except to recall and manipulate its face value symbolism. Case in point: the works of the Belgian artist Magritte. In La Grand Guerre the artist uses the violet to underline the irony of his works' surrealist approach that is, placing ordinary objects in unexpected or implausible situations.

    The last 20 years or so have seen a renewed interest in the art of botanical illustrations.  Numerous artists in various areas of the world have produced lovely and accurate works depicting the violet, both as a cultivar and as a wildflower.  In the near future, The American Violet Society will feature a few of these accomplished artists.

    The following is a listing of well-known works of art and paintings favored with a violet theme.

Anonymous (end of XV century)  The Lady and the Unicorn
Musee du Moyen-age, Thermes de Cluny,
Paris, France

Dürer, Albrecht (1471-1528)

Bouquet of Violets

Albertine Museum, Vienna

Chasseriau, Theodore Mademoiselle de Cabarrus (1848)
Musee des Beaux-Arts
Quimper, France

Tissot, James J.J. (1836-1902) Jeune Femme en veste (1864)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Manet, Edouard (1832-1883) Berthe Morisot au chapeau noir et au
Bouquet de violettes
Private Collection
Bouquet de Violettes (1872)
Private Collection

Cabot Perry, Lilla (1848-1933) Portrait of Mrs. Joseph Clark Grew
Private Collection
Lady with a bowl of violets
Museum of Women in the Arts,
Washington, DC

Magritte, Rene (1898-1967) La Grande Guerre (1964)
Private Collection
Le Chant de la Violette (1951)
Private collection
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