Bloom: Flowers from the Archives of American Art Opens March 1

The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (the Archives), the world’s largest research center dedicated to documenting the history of the visual arts in the U.S., presents a new exhibition from its expansive collection. Opening March 1, 2019, Bloom: Flowers from the Archives of American Art features pastel, colored pencil, oil, and graphite-and-ink sketches; postcards; watercolors; lithographs; gouache illustrations; mixed media works; a dried bouquet; an album of pressed flowers, and letters and correspondence dating from 1858 to 2003. The exhibition explores how artists have drawn inspiration from flowers to develop their own creative expression.

The sketches and drawings featured in the exhibition are works in progress—ideas for future works of art—reflecting an artist’s unique process. Some of the artists observed and recorded the smallest of details, diagramming a flower’s anatomy and life cycle. Others attempted to replicate the exuberance of a blossom, focusing on vivid palettes and sensuous surfaces or abstracted petals, stems, and pistils into fantastical designs. Artists also communicated in the language of flowers with personal correspondence, dried floral arrangements, and still life illustrations.

Among the artists featured in the exhibition are Dorr Bothwell (1902-2000); Joseph Cornell (1903-72); Helen Lundeberg (1908-99); Marisol (1930-2016); Nanae Momiyama (1924-2002); Louise Nevelson (1899-1988); Fairfield Porter (1907-75); Emilio Sanchez (1921-99); Rudolph Schaeffer (1886-1988); and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942).

“The study of nature has long fascinated artists both for personal pleasure and to help inform their studies of line, color, pattern, and light. The range of work in this exhibition is a testament to the never-ending power of nature to inspire some of America’s most renowned artists. The various perspectives highlight the cross-pollination of ideas between the natural world and American art history, and, more broadly, the fruitful intersection of art and science,” said Kate Haw, Director of the Archives of American Art.

This exhibition was organized by the Archives of American Art in collaboration with Smithsonian Gardens. Archivists, horticulturalists, artists, curators, educators, and gardeners were invited to contribute to exhibition research and didactics by examining the many facets of flora.

In conjunction with the exhibition the Archives of American Art has commissioned artist Louise Jones, also known as Ouizi, to create a mural painting titled “Adaptation Nocturne” for the inside the Lawrence A. Fleischmann Gallery. Jones is best known for her public art murals depicting flowers in a grandiose, larger-than-life scale. Inspired Archives collections, Jones’ mural will feature a bouquet of real and imagined wildflowers, weeds, and horticultural knockouts altogether, making a beautiful and diverse bouquet.

Bloom: Flowers from the Archives of American Art is on view March 1 – October 6, 2019, in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery in the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (8th and F Streets) in Washington, D.C.

Complementing Bloom is the exhibition Orchids: Amazing Adaptations, on view through April 28, 2019, in the capacious, glass-ceilinged Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard in the Reynolds Center. The Kogod Courtyard is directly adjacent to the Archives’ Fleischman Gallery. A joint collaboration with Smithsonian Gardens, the United States Botanic Garden, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery, Orchids: Amazing Adaptations will fill the courtyard with hundreds of orchids of stunning variety.

Founded in 1954, the Archives of American Art fosters advanced research through the accumulation and dissemination of primary sources, unequaled in historical depth and breadth, that document more than two hundred years of our nation’s artists and art communities. The Archives provides access to these materials through its exhibitions and publications, including the Archives of American Art Journal, the longest-running scholarly journal in the field of American art. An international leader in the digitizing of archival collections, the Archives also makes nearly 2.5 million digital images freely available online. The Archives’ oral history collection includes nearly 2,400 audio interviews, the largest accumulation of in-depth, first-person accounts of the American art world. Explore the Archives of American Art at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., its research center in New York City, and online at

Paul Bransom (1885-1979). Watercolor and graphite study of pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea), undated. Paul Bransom papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.