Though my dealings with flowers are amicable, there are two critical situations I always experience. The first concerns the decision of whether to create a bouquet of several different sorts, or to display just one at a time. Are we not obliged to take this approach, to pay homage to the singularity of each individual flower, and not to lessen this admiration through plenitude? For as we know, less is more, and reduction aids concentration. It is also easier to respond to individual flowers than to the vagueness of a large cluster.
The other critical situation regularly occurs when it comes to deciding at what point a 'wilted' bouquet should be removed from its vase. We are all familiar with the feeling of surprise each morning, when we are confronted with ever new possibilities for appreciating the flowers as they fade. The aesthetic of decay suggests waiting until they are on the very verge of disappearing. The beauty of decay can be seen in very old people, too – the beauty of disappearance, and the way it creates the memory of what has just ceased to exist.
The Dutch painters of floral still-lives conveyed the idea of life unto death, or transience, precisely by offering the viewer the ringing splendour of flowers at the height of their bloom. Romantics and Expressionists paid their distinctive homage to the way shapes changed as life withered. Beckmann uses black outlines to demonstrate the transition from the fullness of life to the statue-like monumentality of the end state. Still-life painters of the Dutch Golden Age generally achieve their warning against vanitas to greatest effect through the thematic, pictorial connection of blossoming and wilting. They contrast perception and imagination (anticipation and memory). This is also what the picture of Greta Garbo as ‘The Lady of the Camellias’ stands for – a picture that came to embody the analogy of blossoming and love for everyone who saw it. The painting of tulips by Georg Baselitz is the most recent testimony, among many examples over the past few centuries, to painting also being a sort of blossoming. I led hundreds of visitors to see this at the Hypo Kulturstiftung’s 1992 Baselitz retrospective in Munich. The tightly-packed crowd created the effect promised by the painting: a public blossoming.
Translated from German by Ruth Martin