The Art of the Plant – Ellsworth Kelly

In a series of excerpts from Plant: Exploring the Botanical World we look at artists inspired by flora
Sweet Pea (1960) by Ellsworth Kelly. From Plant: Exploring the Botanical World
Sweet Pea (1960) by Ellsworth Kelly. From Plant: Exploring the Botanical World

Plants can give us poisons, medicines, pigments, even fuels, and humankind has cultivated the planet's flora for an equally wild array of reasons. Similarly, artists have represented plants in paintings, photographs, sculptures and films for an equally wide range of motives, as any reader of our new book Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, will discover.

The book reproduces and contextualizes 300 of the most beautiful and pioneering botanical images ever, from ancient illustrations to electron microscope imagery. There are many works in the book by renowned botanists, including Charles Darwin. However, there are plenty of fine-art specimens too, including this delicate sweet pea illustration by Ellsworth Kelly.


Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly

“Using only a minimal line, the celebrated twentieth-century US artist Ellsworth Kelly – better known for large, vividly coloured, hard-edged abstract forms in his paintings and sculptures – captures the delicacy and beauty of a sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) through the use of contour alone, abstracting form from its other qualities,” the book explains.

"Close observation of natural forms was a point of departure for Kelly, who was influenced as a child by illustrations of birds and developed his interest as an applied artist in a World War II Camouflage Battalion.

"This slight, small monochrome drawing is a study of a fragile plant seen from two angles. The artist notes idiosyncrasies in the subject and also honestly records inconsistencies in his own perception, but with a characteristically precise attention to the outline of the motif. The subject is a well-loved annual – called a ‘pea’ as a climbing legume and ‘sweet’ for the fragrance of the essential oils, which are attractive to pollinators and gardeners alike. Sweet peas were first noted in the seventeenth century and were actively bred to develop a range of pastel colours.”


Plant: Exploring the Botanical World
Plant: Exploring the Botanical World

Come back soon for more fine art cultivars extracted from Plant: Exploring the Botanical World. You can buy a copy of this new book here.

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Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
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