Andrew Nicholl, Londonderry beyond a bank of flowers
Andrew Nicholl, Londonderry on the River Foyle, County Derry, Beyond a Bank of Flowers. Image © National Gallery of IrelandCredit

Me aul flower

For centuries, artists have incorporated botanical details into their paintings. Sometimes these flowers are symbolic, with the meanings varying depending on the context. Other times artists included flowers purely as decoration, or to showcase their draughtsmanship.

To celebrate Bloom Festival this weekend, here are some of our favourite blooms in the Gallery's collection.

Detail of flowers in foreground of Two Scenes from the Life of a Saint.
Detail of flowers in foreground of Two Scenes from the Life of a Saint.

Master of Saint Crispin and Crispinian, Netherlandish, fl.1480-1510
Two Scenes from the Life of a Saint, 1480-1510

This curious painting of two scenes from the life of a saint includes exquisite studies of flowers in the foreground, including borage and irises. In Christian art, the iris is traditionally associated with the Passion of Christ and the Resurrection.

Detail of flowers in Andrew Nicholl's landscape with flowers and Londonderry
Detail of flowers in Andrew Nicholl's landscape with flowers and Londonderry

Andrew Nicholl, Irish, 1804-1886
Londonderry on the River Foyle, County Derry, Beyond a Bank of Flowers, 1830s

Nicholl, a nineteenth-century artist from Belfast, was known for his Irish landscapes with wild flowers. Here, he depicted a beautiful bank of wild flowers, including poppies, daisies, cotton thistle, and more. The colourful verge is bristling with movement and texture. The tranquil city depicted in the background is Derry-Londonderry.
 

Detail of flowers in foreground of Daniel Maclise's painting of the Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife.
Detail of flowers in foreground of Daniel Maclise's painting of the Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife.

Daniel Maclise, Irish, 1806-1870
The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, c.1854

Maclise’s dramatic history painting features a beautiful cluster of plants and flowers in the foreground, many of which can be identified: buttercup, daisy, field poppy, thistle, common ivy and ragwort. Maclise may have included the flowers simply to display his versatility and skill in draughtsmanship and use of colour.

Detail from Camille Pissarro, Chrysanthemums in a Chinese Vase, 1873. Image © National Gallery of Ireland
Detail from Camille Pissarro, Chrysanthemums in a Chinese Vase, 1873. Image © National Gallery of Ireland

Camille Pissarro, French, 1830-1903
Chrysanthemums in a Chinese Vase, 1873

This picture of a vase of chrysanthemums is one of a small number of still-lifes that Pissarro made at his home in Pontoise around 1872-73. Other Impressionists, including Monet, Renoir, and Caillebotte, also painted chrysanthemums. Not only were these flowers hardy and visually attractive but their associations with Japanese art and culture appealed to these artists.

Detail from Leech's painting of a convent garden.
Detail of flowers from Leech's painting

William John Leech, Irish, 1881-1968
A Convent Garden, Brittany, c.1913

In this lush scene painted by William Leech, the artist’s first wife Elizabeth, poses as a novice nun in the walled garden of the nuns’ hospital and convent in Concarneau. Slender stems of white lilies rise in the foreground of the painting; artists often included lilies to symbolise purity and chastity.