Jean-Michel Othoniel’s The Secret Language of Flowers

Jean-Michel Othoniel’s The Secret Language of Flowers

Thoughts on a past exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

This past August I had the opportunity to view contemporary artist Jean-Michel Othoniel’s Secret Flower Sculptures exhibit at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Hostetter Gallery. This exhibition celebrated the artist’s life-long fascination with flowers. Othoniel, a 2011 Artist-in-Residence, returned with an exhibition of new work that was begun during his previous residency.

Othoniel_Le Rigaudon de la Paix, 2013

Le Rigaudon de la Paix, 2013, watercolor on paper

Othoniel_Le Menuet (The Minuet), Boston, 2011 watercolor

​Le Menuet (The Minuet), Boston, 2011, watercolor on paper

His new work depicted bronze models and watercolor sketches of his Versailles project. The inspiration for this project originated from his time at the Gardner when Othoniel became intrigued by a rare 1701 book at the Boston Public Library, entitled The Art of Describing Dance by Raoul-Auger Feuillet. This book illustrates Louis XIV’s dance steps at the court of Versailles. Othoniel and landscape architect Louis Bench submitted a proposal to create Secret Flower Sculptures as the first permanent contemporary art installation in the Versailles gardens near Paris, which was accepted and opened in spring 2015.

Othoniel_ Peony painting

Peony, black & silver leaf monotype painting

Othoniel_Peony watercolor

Peony, The Knot of Shame illustration from The Secret Language of Flowers Artist’s book

La rose de Vents outdoor sculpture, aluminum, steel, gold leaf

La rose de Vents outdoor sculpture, aluminum, steel, gold leaf

Othoniel_Peony, The Knot of Shame2

Peony, The Knot of Shame sculpture, blown-glass beads

Also on exhibit was Peony, the Knot of Shame, a mammoth sculpture made of red, gold, and orange blown- Murano glass beads accompanied by several Peony monotype paintings (i.e., studies of Peony created in black and silver leaf).  From a distance directly behind Peony and outdoors, Othoniel’s, La rose de Vents (aluminum, steel, and gold leaf) structure can be seen above the original Gardner structure, shining like a beacon in the night sky.

Othoniel, The Secret Language of Flowers

Artist’s Book

In addition, Othoniel created an artist’s book, The Secret Language of Flowers. It is a personal guide to plant imagery in the museum. Copies of The Secret language of Flowers were placed on benches in the Courtyard, Tapestry, Dutch, and Gothic Rooms. This map included some flowers the artist is fond of.

This attractive exhibition encourages us to think about the diverse ways artists have been inspired by natural beauty in past generations and to make new work of lasting impact.