Monday, 7 October 2013

Autumnal Splendours

Very gradually, Autumn is making his presence felt here in Kaiserswerth.


The acorns have grown and are slowly being consumed by the squirrels and jays.  Leaves are starting to turn yellow and there are pumpkins for sale all over the place!  Yesterday I saw white pumpkins for sale at our local florist which means that the Tone on Tone style has reached even this part of the world!
The swallows have packed up and left; and the geese are starting to fly south.

These are all signs that Autumn is approaching,
but for me,
nothing heralds Autumn's arrival more than the appearance of the beloved chrysanthemum.
My grandfathers and my father grew these lovely flowers.  They were such a part of my life that to me they were somewhat commonplace and hardly worth thinking about!

But then I met the wonderful Henri Fantin-Latour:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Henri_Fantin-Latour_autoportrait.jpg

Ignace Henri Jean Théodore Fantin-Latour (know as Henri) was a consummate painter of flowers in domestic settings.
His images of the chrysanthemum took me by surprise.  He made them look ethereal and gave them a beauty that I had previously not noticed.  Just look at this:
http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/henri-fantin-latour/chrysanthemums-1879
Isn't it beautiful?
Henri completely changed my point of view, and I went from passing by chrysanthemums without so much as how-do-you-do, to gazing at them with the light of love in my eye.

The tones and texture of the flowers, in their various hues, seem to me to embody all that Autumn is.

The Chinese philosopher known in English as Confucius, apparently liked chrysanthemums and wrote about them around the year 500BC.

In Japan the chrysanthemum was a highly valued plant: The Emperors took it as their personal emblem and as early as the 9th Century garden parties were held to celebrate the flowering of the chrysanthemum (known as the kiku) and following Chinese tradition, it was named as one of the Sikunshi, or four floral gentlemen, (representatives of the four Seasons). chrysanthemum season was of course Autumn.

Here is the Imperial Seal of Japan.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Imperial_Seal_of_Japan.svg

In Australia, the chrysanthemum has come to symbolize Mother's Day which in that country occurs in Autumn.  A friend of mine told me that for many Italians the flower represents death and they won't have it in the house.
(This is interesting because in my family that role was held by the lilac.  As a child I once picked a lilac to take to my Grandmother but was swiftly propelled outside again, and the symbolism explained to me, before GG (as my grandmother was known) caught sight of my 'gift'.  Even today I could not have lilac inside the house although I enjoy its scent.)

I don't know when the chrysanthemum began to migrate outside of its ancestral homelands. I looked in various books but could not find the answer.  Apparently it was named chrysanthemum (Golden Flower) in the sixteenth century so I guess it was in Europe, or at least known to Europeans, by that stage.
http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/henri-fantin-latour/large-bouquet-of-chrysanthemums-1882

Melbourne (my adopted city) was founded in 1835.  Twenty years later and advice was being given in the local newspaper on how to grow chrysanthemums.  A true immigrant flower, it is now a citizen of the world, to be found in just about every part of the globe.  These days when you open a plant catalogue you will find them for sale and they are so common that no one in the western world seems to give them much notice.  They are almost as the grass beneath our feet.  We buy then in small pots and when they have finished flowering we discard them, or put them somewhere (such as behind the potting shed) where they die from lack of care and attention.  A nice thank you for the pleasure they have given us!

Daisy-like, or a cluster of petals.  Pom poms, doubles, singles.  chrysanthemums come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I read in my edition of 'The Flowers and Gardens of Japan' by Florence Du Cane, that the Japanese had at least 150 different types, all with appropriately poetic names:
Nihon Ichi (First in Japan)
Natsu-gumo (Summer Clouds)
Haruna Kasumi (Spring Haze)
Tsuki-no-tomo (Companions of the Moon)
Ake-no-sora (Sky at Dawn)
Asa hi no nami (Waves in the Morning Sun)

http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/search/Henri%20Fantin-Latour

Here in our bijou residence, we have a 1788 edition of 'Every Man His Own Gardener'.   The original owner of the book, who often pencilled in notes and crosses to denote favourite flowers, left the chrysanthemums unmarked: I felt offended!  Why did he like the 'Tangier Pea', the 'Rose Lupin' and the 'Double Sunflower', but not the chrysanthemum?
It might have been because the plant was very hard to grow.  Japan (where the Imperial gardeners were having great success) was still a closed country, and no one in Europe had been able to produce a fertile seed.
I checked to see what the author (John Abercrombie) had to say and I was somewhat disappointed. He tells us all about growing them and looking after them but the varieties to be had are few and somewhat boorishly named:
Double Yellow
Double White
Double Quilled

Nathaniel Paterson waxes lyrical about the carnation but makes no mention of 'our' flower.

Things began to change for the chrysanthemum in the mid 19th Century.  Those Imperial Gardeners' closely guarded secrets became more widely known and soon everyone was growing them.  In 1846 the National Chrysanthemum Society was founded in England and its popularity grew until Henri Fantin-Latour, seeing their beauty and elegance began to paint them:

http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/henri-fantin-latour/flowers-chrysanthemums-1876#supersized-artistPaintings-209025

So there you are: the chrysanthemum.  A special flower for this special time of year.

And now, in the tradition of Japanese chrysanthemum viewing, here are some photographs of the chrysanthemums that we are growing on our balcony this Autumn:


Simple, daisy-like blooms:

An interesting petal shape:

One of my favourites:

Chrysanthemum: the golden flower.  How could one not love such golden perfection:

White petals:

Some of our chrysanthemums, en masse, with some friendly roses and a little heather plant:

I hope you enjoyed this post!

26 comments:

  1. Hello Kirk, Fantin-Latour's paintings of chrysanthemums are absolutely glowing; this entire post is a visual treat. In Chinese art, images of chrysanthemums are found everywhere, and beautifully gilded ones are very often in window grills, acting as bosses where perpendicular elements intersect.

    Chrysanthemum tea, made from the petals, is also very popular. Sometime it comes compressed, and it is amazing how a very small chunk of it reconstitutes into a mass of flowers. It can be purchased at any Asian store, and I recommend making it in an open saucepan, so you can enjoy the show as well as the drink.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim,
      I agree with you: AGA and I love the work of Fantin-Latour.
      I used to buy Chrysanthemum tea in China Town in Melbourne. I too put them in a bowl so that I could watch the brownish straw-like bobbles 'unfurl' in the water to become pale and ghostly flowers.
      Kirk

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  2. Dear Kirk,

    Clearly, you and Fantin-Latour favor chrysanthemums. I've never seen the two-tone mums like your first balcony photograph, and those are spectacular. I also like that foreground cachepot. Your balcony seems to be a lovely oasis.

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    1. Dear Mark,
      Thank you for your kind comments about our 'mums. I too have never seen those candy-striped ones before. We bought them at the supermarket!
      In Germany they call a cachepot an 'Ubertopf'. The one you refer to is a hand-painted Limoge one that we found at an antique shop in France. AGA says that he takes full credit for finding it.
      Bye for now
      Kirk

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    2. Yes, it is unmistakably, wonderfully French!

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  3. Kirk these flowers are glorious and so different than the mums around here! They are like a painting! You know me....a softie for all things floral! And I adore the arrangement you have on your balcony!

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    1. A softy for all things floral? You and me both!

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  4. Hello Kirk! YES! Autumn has started to slip into our landscape, but very slowly. And the TONE ON TONE look as reached to my doorstep and I am enjoying white pumpkins by my white marble fireplace, in a basket on my pine dining table and elsewhere in my home!

    Your flower photos are so beautiful, and I wish you a magical season of observing the wonders of change. Anita

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    1. Dear Anita,
      Thank you for your kind comments. I think that pumpkins in the home at this time of year always make a nice touch: A little bit cosy and a little bit magical.
      I am a big fan of Autumn.
      Bye for now
      Kirk

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  5. So beautiful, Kirk. I have some 'mums' on my front porch - it's a tradition here as well. As soon as the mums go on sale at the supermarket or garden shops, we know that Fall is here even if this year the weather was unseasonably warm. I love Fantin Latour's work, most especially of course, his flowers.

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    1. Dear Yvette,
      It is nice to have these traditions, especially on our oft-times grey and minimalist world. I saw my first Fantin-Latour painting when I was a teenager and was hooked!

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  6. I also love mums and, coincidentally, Henri gave me my first real appreciation for them (although I had no idea who he was at the time). When I was a kid, my mother did a bunch of miniature reproductions of his works and I couldn't believe how beautiful they were. She reproduced every one you've pictured here. Your images of all the different types are wonderful. Thanks for this!

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    1. Good old Henri, its nice to see he still has many fans the world over; and how lucky you are to have hand painted reproductions of those paintings.
      I'm glad that you liked this post.
      Bye for now
      Kirk

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  7. I am in love with those pink mums on your balcony! So pretty. :)

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    1. Me too MW, those are my favourites!

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  8. Dear Kirk,
    I'm afraid I've been one of the ignorant ones who never took much liking to Chrysanthemeums - until just recently. I found a little pot of one ( rust-coloured ) lying about forlornly and have been nourishing it. I've come to realise just how gorgeous the flowers are, and what battlers the plants are.
    Another wonderful, educative, delightful post from you. I can see why you'd want to have such a ( splendid ) table of them.

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    1. Dear Faisal,
      Thank you for your kind comments and for joining the Chrysanthemum clan! I think that they have the ability to cheer the heart on the grayest of days.
      Kirk

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  9. Kirk, you have lovely combination of flowers in your balcony: roses and chrysanthemums: yellow and pink. I love them as well and have red one on my windowsill right now as it was a present to my name day. Interesting survey!

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    1. Thank you Nadezda,
      Red chrysanthemums are lovely. I like red geraniums on a windowsill too.
      Kirk

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  10. Your Chrysanths are very jolly. What a sweet collection. BTW: Love the beautiful china pots - well recherche'd AGA!

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    1. Dear David,
      Yes, those cachepots are quite lovely. One is hand-painted Limoges while the other one is by Haviland (also made at Limoges).
      When it comes to 'la quête' for things antique and chic, AGA is one of the best!

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  11. Lovely post Kirk. The green Chrysanthemums Anastasia and Shamrock are some of my favourite flowers and funnily enough this is the first year I have ever had 'Mums' in the garden although I have used them as cut flowers for years. Happy Sunday.

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    1. Thank you Paul.
      I had not heard from of those green chrysanthemums. Having looked them up on the internet I can see why you like them.
      Kirk

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  12. I read this in the Chinese Daily News, "A book from the time of the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC) said there used to be a village named Gangu in Central China's Henan Province where people drank from a nearby stream that contained the petals of chrysanthemums. The petals had fallen into the stream up in the mountains and all the villagers lived to a great age, some as long as 130 years." Not sure if I will try it.

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    1. Now that is very interesting, Susan. I'm not sure I want to live to be 130 years old though!

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  13. Fantin-Latour was one of my favourites. He was working at exactly the right time to be close to Impressionists as they developed their careers, but like Manet he never really became Impressionist himself. Too old fashioned, I suppose. But gorgeous, as you have shown.

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