Antiques Magazine - May 2023, Flowers and antiques: celebrating Chelsea Flower Show - ANTIQUES.CO.UK
 

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    Flowers and antiques: celebrating Chelsea Flower Show

    Posted by Chris on 26/05/2023

    Flowers and antiques: celebrating Chelsea Flower Show

    Flowers have always been featured in antiques, from art to ceramics, furniture to lighting, garden ornaments to – of course – jewellery.

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and why they are featured so heavily in antiques.

    In this article:

     

    Faberge floral antiques

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    The rare Faberge flower (image source)

    Back in 2018, a Faberge-made flower became, at the time, just the third item to ever receive a seven-figure valuation on the UK’s Antiques Roadshow.

    The show’s jewellery expert, Geoffrey Munn, encapsulated for us what is so desirable about flowers – the fact that they give us pure enjoyment without function: “It's what we call an 'object of fantasy' because it has absolutely no function whatsoever except to be a source of pleasure - and it is...it is the rarest, most poetic manifestation of Faberge's work that one could ever hope to see."

    But it leaves us with the question: why do we see so many flowers and floral designs in antiques?

    The answer – we think – is rooted in human history, over thousands, if not millions, of years.
     

    Pre-historic flower power

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    Ecological reconstruction of prehistoric flowers and pollinators [image source]

    One of our earliest common ancestors, Ardipithecus, learned to recognise that the appearance of brightly coloured flowers and their scents meant the location of a food source, giving them an evolutionary advantage. Our ancestors had developed trichromatic colour vision enabling them to better recognise the hues of orange and red in fruit.

    Alongside bees, our ancestors would have been part of the process of flower and plant evolution – consuming seeds and helping to spread them far and wide whilst the pollinators buzzed around us and did their job high up in the canopies.

    The human brain loves symmetry and simplicity in patterns, and this may also help explain why we love flowers – which tend to be symmetrical.

    Essentially, we love colourful flowers today because it has always done us good to do so. Ancestors who inhabited areas rich with flowers began to cultivate them, were more likely to live longer, breed more successfully and be healthier.
     

    Flowers: what are they good for? Answer: not just antiques.

    Flowers have been used for pretty much everything, from herbal remedies, to funeral rituals. During the 1951 excavation of the Neanderthal Shanidar Cave in Northern Iraq, soil samples from the graves were found to contain pollen and flower fragments from at least eight species of wildflowers.

    The usage of flowers in funerals and death rituals continues right up to the present day – although in the past, they may have been necessary to keep the smell of decay at bay.

    Crafted containers for flowers and plants have, over time, evolved depending on the needs, technology and fashions of the day.
     

    Flowers and the Industrial Revolution

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    A Victorian parlour, filled with flowers, c.1870 (image source)

    The Industrial Revolution has played its part in floral manufacturing and antiques. Mass production enabled standardised vases and containers for flowers to be made at far lesser expense, and much more efficiently. Popular books and magazines on Victorian etiquette recommended the use of baskets of flowers for the decoration of tables in the parlour and mantlepieces – but that they should be done in keeping with the aesthetic of the surroundings…and be appropriate for the occasion.

    Victorians’ parlour decorations often used high stands with or without branches, small pendant baskets, and hanging baskets – still seen adorning modern-day gardens.
     

    Victorian Floriography: a secret code

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    An example of French 19th century floriography (image source)

    During the Victorian era when "stiff upper lip" was the norm in Victorian society, the language of flowers was a means of getting around the stuffy etiquette of the day. Floriography emerged as a secret method of communication at a time when open and flagrant displays of emotion were actively discouraged.

    Through the art of floriography, emotional intimacy can flourish where it would otherwise be supressed.

    Floriography dominated Victorian culture in England and the US, and according to some is now regaining some traction in the modern era. It may also help us understand certain meanings behind floral decorations on Victorian
     

    Hepplewhite furniture

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    A floral design on a pair of Hepplewhite-style Carver chairs

    George Hepplewhite – one of the ‘big three’ of the 18th century English furniture makers – inspired a distinctive style of neoclassical furniture, and was widely copied throughout the following century.

    His widow, Alice’s, 1788 ‘Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Guide’ helped influence cabinet makers and furniture companies for several generations. In turn, their work influenced copies of the original designs and variants of them through the 19th and 20th centuries – much of it featuring inlays and carvings of flowers.

    Take a look at the range of Hepplewhite pieces on our site.
     

    Floral marquetry antiques

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    An example of beautiful floral marquetry on a bespoke walnut burr dining table

    There is some excellent floral marquetry pieces inspired by the late 17th and early 18th century Dutch designs, such as this Burr Walnut Marquetry Bureau; an impressive 17ft marquetry dining table; and a lovely floral marquetry inlaid side cabinet.
     

    Floral ceramic antiques

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    A stunning floral Clarice Cliff design

    You’ll find floral designs on plenty of ceramic antiques, from this 1880’s cheese dish, floral porcelain tea cup, and large vintage fruit bowl, to a lovely floral plant stand, vibrant ceramic umbrella holder, and this charming Royal Doulton jug. Unpriced, we also love this French terracotta pot, with its 1960s style hand-painted floral designs.

    Clarice Cliff was well known in the 1930s for producing a wide range of designs for Newport Pottery and A.J. Wilkinson – and you can find many great examples on Antiques.co.uk. Try this honeydew floral pattern plate, bell flower wall pocket, and a stunning Chippendale Trees Tureen.
     

    Floral antiques overseas

    Floral designs are also extremely popular on the Asian subcontinent: our seller Star Auctions have hundreds of pieces for sale, all with delightful floral designs, such as this adorable snuff bottle, a famille-rose floral vase with gilded longevity peaches, and a Qing Dynasty Gilt-Painted Floral Folded Dish.

    Looking at one of our Italian dealers, Parino Mercato Antiquario, they have some beautiful floral-inspired pieces, including a fantastic lacquered wardrobe, an ornate Venetian bench, an attractive display cabinet and this opulent gold side table.

    Latvia-based dealers Sia Antion offer this cute, collectable porcelain figurine of a boy with flowers, porcelain vase with moulded flowers, and a Meiji period carving, ‘Ikebana flowers’.

    We’ve even found an interesting Japanese floral Tsuba (sword guard).
     

    Floral antique jewellery

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques

    If you’re looking for floral jewellery, you don’t have to go far. This Victorian emerald and pearl floral ring is magnificent, as is this 9CT gold floral belt ring. For something unusual, we like this vintage 19th century Italian micro mosaic brooch, a ‘flower girl’ brooch (featuring a girl watering flowers), and these attractive flower head earrings.
     

    Floral antique art

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    Lovely Original Vintage Antique Floral Still Life Of Dutch Flowers Oil Painting

    Flowers have been featured in art for centuries. Starting with a powerful Dutch still life oil on canvas, into these charming botanical studies of the late 19th century, to a nice matching pair of framed floral studies, this Edwardian floral still life, a British Impressionist School still life, a 1980s oil painting, and finally this beautifully colourful contemporary watercolour.
     

    A final flourish

    As we approach the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, it’s a fitting time to take a look at the meaning behind flowers and floral antiques
    A pretty Victorian Domed Dried Flower Frame

    We could go on forever, given the vast numbers of floral pieces on Antiques.co.uk, but we’ll leave you with a few assorted items which we particularly like.

    If you’re in the market for something vintage, we have a rare 1930s Della Robbia Floral Plaque designed by Harold Stabler, and this lovely art deco carved wood wall plaque of a floral basket. This beautiful little domed Victorian dried flower frame is also really very pretty.

    We adore this late 20th century silver plated champagne cooler – which, you’ll be pleased to know, can hold up to six bottles. Perfect for celebrating the Chelsea Flower Show with your friends!

    See all of our floral antiques

    You can find all of our floral items by searching ‘floral’ or ‘flower’.


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