Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Sargent-Inspired Winter Bouquet: ‘Lady Agnew’

A cascade of mauve sweet peas and clematis
brings to life the purple sash in John Singer Sargent’s ‘Lady Agnew.’
Vintage Verdigris Urn, $75, emilythompsonflowers.com.
Stephen Kent Johnson for WSJ, Styling by Lindsey Taylor.
John Singer Sargent’s ‘Lady Agnew’ John Singer Sargent,
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892,
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh ©
Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland.
By Lindsey Taylor
WSJ, Jan. 2, 2015

While frantically running around New York City this past holiday season, fighting ruthless crowds on the hunt for gifts, I happened across a poster that stopped me in my tracks. Announcing an exhibition of masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery at the Frick Collection in New York, it featured the 1892 portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by American artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Mr. Sargent’s painting, which depicts a young socialite seemingly without a care or an agenda, promptly put me in a calmer state of mind. Just as promptly, I decided to base January’s arrangement on it.        

For the vessel, I borrowed a patinated urn from New York floral designer Emily Thompson and fit an inexpensive glass cylinder snugly inside it. I then turned my mind to the world that Lady Agnew inhabited, one I imagined was elegant without being pretentious.

The flowers had to feel feminine. I usually work with seasonal, locally grown blooms, but for this bouquet, I allowed myself to splurge on white peonies and lisianthus to mimic the dress, pale blue delphiniums for the wall color, and mauve sweet peas and a cascade of light purple clematis to echo her sweeping silk sash. (For a more affordable alternative, use white amaryllis and carnations in place of the high-priced peonies, and sub in lilac hyacinths for the sweet peas, which can be costly when out of season.) A taupe-colored pine cone from Australia picked up the wood of the bergère and gave this girlie arrangement a little more weight.

The painting’s colors were my guide for choosing the flowers, but I also tried to convey its languid mood. I crisscrossed strips of floral tape across the glass cylinder’s rim to create a grid that would give me more control over the flower placement, supporting lolling stems at extreme angles. I used all my tricks to capture the sense of serenity the image had given me after I had succumbed to the mania of the season.


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