Contemporary artists, both emerging and established, are reinterpreting the age-old discipline of botanical art. Botanicals started as a way to catalog the natural world in the 15th century. Now it is an intriguing trend in the contemporary art world.
Today’s artists are rendering plants and flowers in surprising new ways, often riffing on classic botanical drawings to express distinctly modern views. The current work in paintings, drawings, prints and mixed media, not only brings the beauty of natural indoors but also provides some clever commentary on art history and the environment.
Historically, in the 1600s, botanical artists led what sounds like a romantic existence. Some served as members of expeditions to exotic locations, while others devoted their lives to documenting all the bulbs, plants and flowers in gardens of rich patrons. Publishers issued these engravings and etchings serially in loose-leaf folios, usually as part of an encyclopedic or scientific project. Wealthy people could subscribe to a series, and some had whole collections hand-colored and bound into books. Botanical art continued to enjoy popularity through the Victorian era, when drawing from nature diverted ladies of the leisure classes.
While illustrations still beat out photography in scientific journals, textbooks and seed catalogs (because of their greater detail), it’s the contemporary artists who are giving new life to the genre. Though they borrow from tradition, they don’t consider themselves exclusively botanical artists and they exhibit at mainstream galleries. Some might depict scientifically accurate plants but group them purely on the basis of aesthetics. Others dispose with precise representation, creating abstract or conceptual works.
There has been renewed interest in both antique and new botanical art. Works are featured in many galleries, art and craft shows. What is significant for interior decorating is that both the old illustrations and new interpretations come in a vast variety of prices ranges. Many interesting pieces for an interior décor are still affordable. And better yet, many art studios are offering classes in botanical illustration, for you to do-it-yourself.