The water meadows that stretch across 50 acres of the Southrop Manor estate in the Cotswolds, home of the retreat, Thyme, reach their wildflower peak this month, as buttercups, campion, clover, knapweed and wild orchids burst into flower. Last year, the artist Endellion Lycett Green was there to capture it. Plants have always beguiled her. “It’s the wonderment of nature and what can grow from a tiny seed,” she says. “It gives me a sense of the sublime. A glimpse into something very mysterious.” The Wiltshire-based artist has been observing and painting nature for her whole life, but lately she’s been closely studying plants, including the botanical compositions of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, perhaps best known for his early-19th-century engravings of Empress Joséphine’s vast collection of roses at the Château de Malmaison.

Wild Garlic, 2023, by Endellion Lycett Green
Wild Garlic, 2023, by Endellion Lycett Green
Hydrangea (London), 2023, by Endellion Lycett Green, £14,000, Laura Lopes
Hydrangea (London), 2023, by Endellion Lycett Green, £14,000, Laura Lopes

This summer the artist is back on the Gloucestershire estate showing a selection of botanical studies that pay homage to Redouté, alongside large-scale oils, some of which draw on those days in the water meadows. Her complex layered compositions are almost abstract in their focus on form: the overlapping wild garlic foliage on the woodland floor; the graphic, almost metallic leaves of Hydrangea macrophylla, occasionally punctuated by emerging hot-pink flowers. Her favourite subjects tend to have strong leaf shapes – artichokes, spiky eryngiums – or the blueish-green tones she’s most drawn to, especially in Rosa glauca.

“There is something elusive in the way she is able to capture the very essence of the plants,” says gallerist Laura Lopes. Lycett Green’s pieces, she adds, are part of a renewed and urgent focus on the natural world, “a longing for flora and fauna”.

Red orange cut flowers: triptych screen print, 2023, by Oisín Byrne, £2,640,
Red orange cut flowers: triptych screen print, 2023, by Oisín Byrne, £2,640,

When Isabel Ettedgui first showed Oisín Byrne’s pastel-hued Cut Flowers at Connolly in June 2021, they sold out in the first 24 hours. The following year she exhibited his large-scale screen prints – which sold equally well. This summer she is showing a triptych of smaller-scaled prints. It isn’t just the colours, sense of nature and dynamism in those pictures that makes them irresistible. Says Ettedgui: “Oisín’s work is really about something more than floral exuberance – the flowers are almost incidental, almost abstracted, like a dance across the paper.” And of course implicit in any cut flower, she continues, is “that small window of perfection before it all deteriorates”.

Woolworth’s Roses, 2023, by Clare Woods
Woolworth’s Roses, 2023, by Clare Woods © Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and New York

Memento mori was also on Clare Woods’ mind when she turned to painting floral subjects following an operation in 2020, and friends sent flowers in lieu of visits. Her sensuous, richly coloured paintings are starkly contemporary yet also speak to the sumptuous studies Édouard Manet made when he was confined to bed in the final year of his life. Each begins with photographs, which she reduces to a line drawing that, in turn, is transferred to aluminium panels. She paints onto the flat metal sheets, mixing colours while she works, and pushing the paint on the panel. Woods then creates collages – using thousands of pieces of painted paper saved up over years. Such is the drawn-out process that, she says, “it is almost going back into the painting and seeing what else is there”.

Magnolia Michelia IV, 2024, by Sarah Graham, £58,000,
Magnolia Michelia IV, 2024, by Sarah Graham, £58,000, © Courtesy of Sarah Graham and Lyndsey Ingram

Long dismissed as a “low genre”, floral studies are being reappraised as part of a wider renaissance in still-life work. Last year Woods, a Royal Academician, filled a room, wall to ceiling, with still-life paintings by 200 artists at the RA Summer Exhibition. “I wanted to see what the general painter was making,” she says. And last month, Pallant House opened The Shape of Things: Still Life in Britain including works by Woods alongside Vanessa Bell, David Hockney and Lucian Freud (whose own plant studies were surveyed at the Garden Museum last year). “It’s always been a little bit outside the box in contemporary art,” says Woods of still lives. The return to the domestic, she adds, is an unsurprising shift. “The world feels like a very unsafe place. Because of social media you can actually see everything with no filter. And it’s constant. There’s no break. It’s 24-hour news.”

Benton Strathmore, 2019, by Jelly Green
Benton Strathmore, 2019, by Jelly Green
Forest and Flames V, 2022-2023, by Jelly Green
Forest and Flames V, 2022-2023, by Jelly Green © Nick Ilott Photography

Inevitably, the climate crisis is often woven into the plants narrative today. Jelly Green started painting large-scale studies of Iris germanica, en plein air, having been introduced to the flower by her teacher Maggi Hambling, who in turn had studied with Cedric Morris, a prolific breeder of the flower. “The first thing we draw as children tends to be the nature around us, which is also entwined with many of the fairy tales we read,” says Green, who is perhaps best known for her lush, large canvases of woodlands and forests. “Painting outside, there’s a sense of immediacy and a time limit that keeps things fresh. But you also experience nature in a totally different way, seeing how plants change through the day, how light rises and falls over them.” On one trip to Borneo the devastation of nature hit her. Back at her studio she later took a completed canvas of verdant plant life and began to paint over it with vivid hot flames, the beginning of her Burn series that confronts us with the reality facing nature. “I couldn’t really keep painting these tributes,” adds Green. “I’ve got to paint the truth.”

Three Roses in a Can, 1990, by Albert York
Three Roses in a Can, 1990, by Albert York © Courtesy Loewe
Pink roses in a Glass Vase, 1980, by Albert York, hung at the Loewe AW24 catwalk show in Paris
Pink roses in a Glass Vase, 1980, by Albert York, hung at the Loewe AW24 catwalk show in Paris © Courtesy Loewe

In art, the precariousness of nature is writ large. Earlier this spring the small-scale canvases of the late, reclusive American artist Albert York were reappraised when they were hung at the Loewe AW24 catwalk show in Paris. A collection of 18 paintings included intimate portraits of vases of flowers or a verdant landscape, contained within small, constricting frames. When asked why nature was so often his subject, York said: “I think we live in a paradise, this is a Garden of Eden, really it is. It might be the only paradise we ever know, and it’s just so beautiful, and you feel you want to paint it.” 

Endellion Lycett Green is at Thyme until 4 September, Jelly Green and Lily Hunter Green: Conflagration is at Snape Maltings until 23 June,

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