Thursday, 25 April 2013


Watercolour, size 41” x 26.5”(C) The artist

I saw this work at the annual exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists held in the Methodist Central Hall, across the road from Westminster Abbey.  

The art of botanical painting continues even in the face of enhanced photographic technology and the digital revolution, for there is simply no substitute for the discerning talents of the artist capturing the essence of plant form.
Professor Peter R Crane FRS, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
An image this size cannot convey the precision, texture and delicacy of the work. It is as if a living plant  hangs upon the wall. You know that these poppies were once fragile, delicate, soft, blowsy, short-lived flowers.  Not for them the stiff-stalked confinement of a vase. But on a page they lie still and we can take as long as we like to examine and enjoy the wonder of their structure and texture and beauty.

I may have selected Ann Swan's painting from the hundreds of others not only for its  brillliance, but because she'd painted poppies, flowers which are drenched in symbolism. I suppose I first came across them in illustrations in fairy tale books: a crown of poppies woven to settle on a princess's jet-black hair. Poppies are perhaps second only to roses as a sign of beauty.

But poppies have a more dramatic, sometimes darker life. When grown as a crop they bring wealth, pleasure, healing - and:destruction. On the one hand poppy oil is used in salad dressings, or to spice up cakes and breads. But its derivatives are opium. morphene, heroin and homely codeine.  Blood red poppy fields  remind us of the devastation of two world wars. We lay wreaths of poppies to remind us of the price paid for freedom. We wear them each autumn 'lest we forget'.

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