Irises and Roses

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


"For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream." ― Vincent van Gogh

There is a fascinating story behind these stunning flowers. Vincent van Gogh's blooming optimism led to these still life paintings of irises and roses. Painted on the eve of his departure from the asylum at Saint-Rémy, he carefully and skillfully created this series as an ensemble. While working on these paintings, he wrote to his mother, "But for one's health, as you say, it is very necessary to work in the garden and see the flowers growing." And last weekend, I was fortunate to lay eyes on these flowers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There is something so mesmerizing about flowers. Flowers were the subject of many of Van Gogh's paintings. As said to his brother, "You will see that by making a habit of looking at Japanese pictures you will come to love to make up bouquets and do things with flowers all the more." To his sister, Wil, Van Gogh advised her to cultivate her own garden, like Voltaire's Candide, to find joy and meaning in life." Flowers signify all the joy of life, flowers signify spring, life and rebirth. 

Notice the vibrant and complementary colors of each flowers. Violet complements yellow and pink complements green. Irises are a popular flower in Japan and roses are the ubiquitous in France, therefore, the irises represent the East and roses represent the West. The series was created with harmony and balance. The vases even share the same horizon line, which is such a subtle but thoughtful detail (although it is unclear in these digital images of the paintings). There is so much color theory and technique behind these paintings, which you can read more about here and here

Sadly, they have lost their vibrancy over the years, but with digital re-imaging, they created what the original colors looked like. The irises that now appears to be blue was actually a deep violet and the white roses were a dreamy shade of pink. There is so much thought and design in these deceptively simple still life paintings of flowers. I'm so in awe. I can't believe these were painted in 1890. That is just so mind boggling to think this incredible human being, Vincent, painted these gorgeous flowers and now we can just look at it and be one foot away from these masterpieces. I feel so blessed.