It’s always a bit triste (sad) when late fall’s cool temperatures finally decimate flower gardens in France. Due to the country’s generally mild climate, French flowers are obviously glorious from spring until early fall – click here for previous posts on splendid gardens in France. And while my take is that French winter gardens have their own special magic, there is still something qui manque (lacking) when all the bright colors disappear due to frosty weather.

However, this fall and winter France lovers in the U.S. can enjoy vibrantly hued French flowers in Dallas all cold season long – and no jackets or coats required. From now through February 8, 2015, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is hosting “Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse,” a breathtaking exhibit devoted to French floral still-life painting from the 18th century to early 20th century. Developed in cooperation with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, this special show explores the evolution of flower painting through works of such famous artists as Van Gogh, Delacroix, Fantin-Latour, Manet, Courbet, Matisse and many others.

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“Bouquets” fills seven stunningly colored galleries with each one painted a different hue to set off the art. With all the works so superficially pretty, it would be easy to breeze through the variously themed rooms and miss the real richness of the exhibition. But as DMA curator and show co-organizer Heather MacDonald pointed out in a recent preview I attended, “Bouquets” is not merely a nice collection of decorative flower paintings. The exhibition is meant to dig deep into the floral still-life genre to showcase both the artists’ creativity in documenting the natural world and also the historical and cultural contexts that led to the works’ development.

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Image courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art

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Anne Vallayer-Coster, Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Porcelain Vase, 1776, DMA

As I walked through the galleries, I found myself fascinated by the depictions of flowers in every format – casual to polished, natural to stylized, grand scale to petit tableau. I wanted to spend time in front of each of the more than 60 paintings from museum and private collections around the world and get to know these colorful works by heart. Had I done that, I would have been there all day. Still I plan to see the show several times to take in all the fabulous French bouquets gathered here. 

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A special feature in the center of the exhibition is the aptly named “Atelier des Fleurs.” The “Flower Workshop” offers visitors a chance to sit down and create their own bouquet image using the art supplies and fresh flower arrangement provided. You can post your artwork on the cloth boards for others to enjoy or take it with you.

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I happened to see the ‘changing of the bouquets’ on the day I was there. Every week throughout the exhibition, the Dallas Museum League volunteers bring a new colorful bouquet inspired by the paintings in the show. What a fabulous touch!

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After Dallas, “Bouquets” will travel to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond and then on to the Denver Art Museum. The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue entitled Working Among Flowers: Floral Still-Life Painting in 19th Century France is terrific and a great way to keep the flower show going after you’ve seen it or to enjoy the floral still-lifes chez vous if one of these cities is not on your upcoming travel list. It also makes a superb Christmas present for any French art lover or French garden lover or Francophile on your gift list.

Speaking of gifts, I learned in the show that many of these artists painted floral still-lifes with the intention of giving them away as presents. It reminded me of a small, rustic bouquet painting I picked up at a Paris flea market earlier this year. While it won’t win any art prizes, the French flower painting is old and charming and cheerful – and sure enough, it was painted as a gift. A barely legible “Bonne année,” or ‘Happy new year’ is inscribed near the artist’s signature.

Dallas Museum of Art

1717 N. Harwood

Dallas, TX 75201

Tickets are $8 each (free for DMA Partners & children under 11)

• Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (March 21, 2015–June 21, 2015)

• Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (July 19, 2015–October 11, 2015)

 

 

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PS: If you go, don’t miss the two ”brioche paintings.” Manet painted fluffy brioche bread with flowers – they look real enough to eat!

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