Whether to celebrate those plants Napoleon brought home from Egypt, or those collected by eminent botanists of the eighteenth century, a florilegium has rarely been a casual endeavor. The illustrated plant books were popular in the seventeenth century; today, those volumes remain important documents of art, science and history. Josephine Bonaparte commissioned a florigelium for her garden at Malmaison, filled with rare flowers acquired around the world. Sir Joseph Banks had one to catalogue the plants collected on Captain Cook's voyage around the globe.
A new exhibit explores the garden as inspiration. Tending Toward the Untamed: Artists Respond to the Wild Garden offers new work by eight artists in a variety of media including painting, animation, photography, and sculpture. The show explores the relationship between natural abandon and horticultural order as it grows in Wave Hill, a garden in the Bronx, New York, that overlooks the Hudson River.
Some time ago I discovered Rachel Pedder-Smith's Leguminosae (2004), and I fell in love. A seed pod enthusiast myself, I was taken by the meticulous reverence with which she painted various specimens of beans and seeds. And so, I was thrilled to hear about her new undertaking, a magnum opus in collaboration with the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Farm to table and farm to paper—contemporary botanical artist Sally Jacobs finds her subjects at farmers markets in Los Angeles. A celery root with particularly intricate underground latticework, a bunch of radishes with the deepest reds and purples, she selects her vegetables for their model forms, then totes them to her studio—she always paints from life. Her method requires attention to time, in addition to detail—a watercolor portrait becomes a race against the wilting leaf, the fading flower.