Revisiting 28: van Gogh and Redon

From Joelle Stepien Bailard this morning, as part of her campaign of flinging images of artworks against the dread weight of the news (I now have six or seven friends doing this systematically, on various themes, and I’m not counting the ones with dogs or cats; owls, yes, however), this 1887 painting by Vincent van Gogh:

(#1) Vase with Daisies and Anemones

Just the sort of thing that inspired Odilon Redon in his fabulous flower paintings. Compare #1 with this 1909 Redon from my 12/12/18 posting “Three artists”:

(#2) Flowers in a Blue Vase

Daisies. Some speculation as to which composite flower sometimes called  a daisy appears in #1. My guess is an inula, maybe elecampane (Inula helenium), whose common and scientific names are a giant tribute to Helen of Troy.

(#3) A stand of elecampane

On the plant and its names, from two sources. First Wikipedia:

Elecampane, Inula helenium, also called horse-heal or elfdock, is a widespread plant species in the sunflower family Asteraceae. It is native to Europe and Asia from Spain to Xinjiang Province in western China, and naturalized in parts of North America.

… The plant’s specific name, helenium, derives from Helen of Troy; elecampane is said to have sprung up from where her tears fell. It was sacred to the ancient Celts, and once had the name “elfwort”.

And then NOAD:

noun elecampane: a plant that has yellow daisylike flowers with long slender petals and bitter aromatic roots that are used in herbal medicine, native to central Asia. Inula helenium, family Compositae. ORIGIN late Middle English: from medieval Latin enula (from Greek helenion [Helen again] ‘elecampane’) + campana probably meaning ‘of the fields’ (from campus ‘field’).

2 Responses to “Revisiting 28: van Gogh and Redon”

  1. chryss Says:

    About those “daisies”… well, I’m coming back to them, because the word is on my internal “confusing translations” list.

    The painting (#1) is owned by the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, and I mostly see it listed under the title “Flowers in a blue vase” (like #2) or on its home page, “Bloemen in blauwe vaas”. (The K-M Museum has more of the genre Bloemstilleven: ).

    In 1887, if I am (as per Wikipedia) not mistaken, van Gogh lived in someone’s place in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. I’m sure there were private and public gardens as well as empty lots with poor soil that would have had wild flowers. These yellow flowers look familiar, in the sense of not exotic, not in the sense of “I should know those”. Inula helenium exists in France and can be found on lists of recommended garden plants (as “grande aunée”). It could be it! But OTOH, it has large leaves that don’t look at all like the small-leaved greenery in the vase. Which, of course, could be from another one of the flowers. Poking around in French lists of yellow garden flowers, there are a few more options, including Coreopsis and wild or cultivated lettuce (which I thought of, TBH, given how common these are in fallow lots in Europe: ) .

    But what about, you know, daisies? My problem with talking about them in English, and especially in the US, is that my mental model of a daisy is very different from the mental model that I find here. American daisies are a lot more elaborate, much larger, much more ornamental. The ones at home (Bellis perennis) are tiny inoffensive flowers fit for children’s doll house vases! I’m not even sure if you’d call But there’s a middle ground. I’ve seen more substantial varieties of Bellis perennis (still *my* daisy) in France. And they can come in yellow. Like these:

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