A Rose by any other name..

I am always intrigued by names and how they originate and get associated with things. I thought I’ll research a few of my favorite flowers and see how they got the name they did.

Tulip – this beautiful flower originated in Persia and Turkey and gets its name from the Turkish word for turbans. Men wore tulips on their turbans in this region, and Europeans thought the word tulip was for the name of the flower, and not the word for turban and started calling the beautiful flower tulip. It’s interesting because I also think the name looks like a turban – and some sources say that the name originated from the Turkish word for turban. Either way – it’s a perfect name for this much-loved flower.

Theofrastos Triantafyllidis (1881-1955), Still Life with gardenias and red book

Gardenia – this gorgeous white fragrant flower is named after physician and botanist Alexander Garden. It was named that not by Garden himself but Carl Linnaeus a Swedish botanist who formalized binomial nomenclature. Garden lived in Charleston, SC and had sent a magnolia to Linnaeus who felt the need to then name a flower after Garden and picked the cape jasmine and called it gardenia!!

Vincent Van Gogh, Irises, 1889

Iris – the name of this flower is from the Greek word – eiris – which is the name of the Greek Goddess of the rainbow. The flower is called that because it comes in all colors of the rainbow. It is also the flower that announces the arrival of spring by popping out of the ground sometimes through the snow.

Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), Dahlias, 1874

Dahlia – these flowers symbolize summer – and are also very important for Mexico which is where they originated. They were some of the earlier flowers taken to Europe from the Americas and did well in the German and Swedish summers – and were named dahlia after a Swedish botanist Andres Dahl. The Germans wanted to name the flower Georgina after German botanist Johann Gottlieb Georgi – and called it Georgina through the 19th century until they finally gave in to the Swedes.

Mughal, 17th Century, unknown

Marigold – this deep yellow flower which grows profusely all year long seems to be revered in almost all religions. Its name derives from Mary’s Gold – so named after Mary, the mother of Jesus. Marigolds were taken to Europe from Mexico and Guatemala in the 16th century – in Spain they were placed at the altar of Mary which gave them their name. Marigolds are also used in all Hindu religious ceremonies.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) Carnation Lily. Lily, Rose (1885)

Carnations – the name sounds like and is derived from the word coronation – these flowers were used in ancient Greek crowns from which they get their name. Today these flowers are used for solemn occasions.

Lily – lilies get their name from the Greek word leiron which was what they called the while lily. Lilies are the oldest cultivated flowers in the world and were grown by the Cretes as early as 1580 BCE.

So many flowers… I could go on and on !!

Flotsam and Jetsam

While most of us may relate to them as the twin eels in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, these two very interesting words originate from marine debris and are related to the items that were once on a ship but are now in the ocean.

Flotsam and Jetsam, 1908, John Singer Sargent, watercolor on paper

Flotsam is debris or rubbish that is found floating around in the ocean that got there because of a ship accident or wreck. It was never deliberately thrown into the ocean from the ship. The word flotsam comes from the French word floter which simply means to float. The rule of finder’s keepers does not apply to flotsam found by a passerby – the debris still belongs to the owners of the ship that met with the unfortunate accident that cause the flotsam.

Jetsam on the other hand is debris that was deliberately thrown from the ship into the ocean – either to lighten the ship before an accident or for some other reason. The important distinction is that it was deliberately thrown. The word is derived from the word jettison which means to throw something from a plane or a ship. Since they chose to throw the jetsam, the rule of finders keepers does apply in this case – and a passerby that comes across the jetsam can keep it.

The Shipwreck, 1772 Claude-Joseph Vernet, (1714-1780)

The two words are most often used together and have metaphorically come to mean odds and ends, or miscellaneous items –  as in –“the war refugees carried the flotsam and jetsam of their life on their backs as they walked across the continent searching for a safe haven.”

(Images courtesy, NGA DC, Portland Museum of Art, National Museuem of Norway, & Tate Gallery UK).

Picasso vs. Sargent

I came across this fascinating work by Norman Rockwell last week, and was intrigued by overall subject matter, and the paintings in the painting – shown in this work. Rockwell did this work titled, “Picasso vs. Sargent,” for the January 11, 1966 edition of the LOOK magazine. 

The painting by Rockwell shows two paintings in the same room of a museum. The first painting, on the left wall is an 1897 portrait of Mrs. George Swinton by John Singer Sargent, whereas the second painting is Picasso’s 1931 painting, “The Red Armchair.” Two very differently dressed women – representing different versions of femininity and women’s liberation – are looking at the two very different paintings, and we are not surprised by which lady is looking at which painting.

The era seems to be the threshold of time in between the 1950s and 1960s, when women moved out of the kitchen and into the workforce. They changed the way they dressed – feminine dresses and overcoats gave way to jeans and leather jackets, heels were discarded in favor of leather boots, and curlers were tossed in favor of natural relaxed hairstyles, Perhaps, children too are being traded for portfolios – as more and more women enter the workforce, they delay having children.

The portrait of Mrs. George Swinton can be found in the Art Institute of Chicago’s American Art Gallery. The painting, with its extravagant color and brushwork, epitomizes why Sargent as the leading portraitists of his time. According to the Art Institute, “he accentuated her regal bearing and feminine dress. Sargent harmonized the realism of her face and body with bursts of impressionistic brushstrokes describing the shimmering, translucent fabric descending from her shoulder.”

A woman and her daughter look at Sargent’s painting

In Rockwell’s painting, a woman and her little daughter are looking at the beautifully framed Sargent painting. The woman, daughter, and the doll – all three – strangely, have curlers in their hair. Apart from this anomaly, the mother is exquisitely and formally dressed in an overcoat, and heels, while the daughter is also wearing a young child’s dressy overcoat. 

Picasso’s, “The Red Armchair,” is a portrait of Maris Therese-Walter – by whom a much older and married Picasso was smitten. According to the Art Institute of Chicago, which also owns this painting (in its Modern Art Gallery), “the smitten artist began to furtively reference her blond hair, broad features, and voluptuous body in his work. Perhaps acknowledging the double life they were leading, he devised a new motif; a face that encompasses both frontal and profile views.” 

A young woman, in jeans, a leather jacket, and boots, with a portfolio in her hands studies the Picasso.

Of note here is also how well Rockwell has copied the very different works of Sargent and Picasso.

On the surface, this is such a fun painting of a visit to a museum.  But a detailed look reveals a painting full of subtle messages, and this beautiful, almost poignant, painting captures a moment in American history and records it for posterity. 

Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose

Ye Shepherds tell me
Tell me have you seen,
Have you seen My Flora pass this way?
In shape and feature's beauty queen,
In pastoral, in pastoral array

A wreath around her head
Around her head she wore
Carnation, lily, lily, rose
And in her hand a crook she bore
And sweets her breath compose.

The Wreath, Joseph Mazzinghi (1765 - 1844)

Expatriate American artist, John Singer Sargent, was invited to stay and recuperate from a head injury in the Cotswold village of Broadway by his friend and fellow American expat artist Edwin Austin Abbey.  Here a group of artists would gather around a piano and sing the popular song, and spend glorious evenings together either playing tennis or going on boating expeditions on the Thames.  It was during one such boating expedition, when the natural light of the day was fading, that Sargent saw some Chinese lanterns hanging amidst trees and lilies in a garden. This vision of that exact purple twilight moment in the day when natural light gets replaced by artificial light captured Sargent’s fantasy, and he spent the next few months trying to capture that light, the result of which was the absolutely spellbinding painting which he titled Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose.

He chose two sisters, daughters of a fellow artist for the painting because they had hair of the exact color he was looking for.  Every evening, Sargent would stop his tennis game, and wait in the spot with his models for the light to be exactly like he wanted and paint for a few moments.  He repeated this every evening from September to November 1885, when the light changed completely with the changing season.  He then resumed in the summer of 1886 and completed the painting in October 1886.

Lantern with illuminated ridges. Courtesy Tate Britain.

The painting is simply mesmerizing. In it Sargent has captured the twilight moment when natural light is replaced by artificial light, the innocence of childhood with the intense childlike concentration at the task of lighting the lanterns, the beauty of the late summer foliage in the darkness of the leaves and the maturity of the flowers, and the glow in the white cotton-linen dresses of the girls.  The young girls themselves are surrounded by a garden that forms a protective cocoon around them, the eye goes upward with the growing size of the flowers, and the age old Japanese technique of the increasing size of the flowers as the eye moves upward has the effect of bringing the background forward. At the same time the eye moves along the curve of the lantern string, stopping with the two central figures, where balance is achieved with the two girls facing each other.  The glow of the lanterns, some brighter than others, illuminate their faces and dresses, and the ridges of the lanterns. The painting draws you in – into the world of the fleeting light of dusk, and of fleeting childhood summers.

11:00am on 11/11 of 1918

John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) completed his monumental war painting Gassed which shows the devastation of war in March 1919. Lt. Wilfred Owen, MC worte the first draft of Dulce et Decorum Est at the Craiglockhart War Hosital in 1917. He succumbed to his war injuries and died one week before Armistice Day.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

My afternoon with Sargent

Last weekend I went to Washington DC to accompany my sister on a speech tournament. I could do that because school is over.  Since the group had free time, we went to various museums around the city.  I went to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) which was great fun especially because it was so hot outside.  The museum was big but not huge like the Louvre or the Hermitage, and I felt like I saw most of it.  It’s a gorgeous building with an atrium on either side – where one can sit and relax.  There was a Sally Mann photography exhibition going on in the museum.  Her large black and white landscapes of the South were really stunning.  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the exhibition.

I spent a long time admiring the John Singer Sargent paintings in the museum. Sargent (1856 – 1925) is an American artist, who was trained in France, and lived in London. He is heavily influenced by Spanish master artist Velazquez, whom he studied passionately.   Interestingly, Sargent also painted murals which can be found in the Boston public Library and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  The NGA in DC has some beautiful Sargent works which I photographed (with permission of course).  The paintings in the museum show his versatility as an artist – his landscapes, portraits, interiors are all equally beautiful.  It’s very difficult to pick a favorite but if I had to, I would pick the lady in the white silk gown with the paisley shawl.  I had a really fun time in the museum because I saw a lot of stuff but focused on one artist the most.  Others may not like to focus on one artist as they feel it limits their enjoyment of the museum – for me it was great fun.

Sargent - Pavement, Cairo, 1891Sargent - Nonchaloir (Repose), 1911