Photo: HIP/Art Resource, NY
Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson for WSJ,
Flower Styling by Lindsey Taylor,
Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart
WSJ, Aug. 11, 2015
LONG AGO, when my parents’ summer cookout menus dictated a lot of mustard and ketchup, I developed a bias against pairing the colors red and yellow. I was more of a relish girl.
It’s important, however, to push yourself beyond your comfort zone on occasion. So, as the inspiration for this month’s flower arrangement, I chose “The Red Vineyards at Arles,” an 1888 painting by Vincent van Gogh that was, incidentally, the only canvas that he sold in his lifetime.
Even though the red-and-yellow color combination is one of my least favorites, the painting’s energetic palette reminds me of the “hot” colors found in gardens during the month of August, when sunflowers, helenium, goldenrod, amaranthus, black-eyed susans and red dahlias are blazing up the borders.
When I started to really analyze the canvas’s color scheme, I noticed how some of the quieter, and cooler, hues help mellow the harshness of the red and yellow. Note the periwinkle blue of the field workers’ uniforms and the creamy white brush strokes that accent the field, the sky above and its reflection in the water. Without these touches, the painting might have been too strident.
In keeping with the painting’s French country feel, I selected a simple copper bucket with a greenish-blue patina that picks up on the mad mix of colors found in the horse-drawn cart in the middle distance as well as the far-off tree line.
When it came to the blooms, I gathered orange and red dahlias, bright yellow yarrow and billy buttons in a mustard yellow (deeper than the Kraft-brand glop of my youth) to represent the painting’s vines as they metamorphose into their fall colors. To echo the blue and cream mentioned above, I tucked in stems of indigo delphinium, purple salvia and white coreopsis.
Admittedly, my lifelong prejudice against red-and-yellow is still intact. But this arrangement opened my mind to the way that softening that palette with ameliorating shades can make it more, well, palatable, whether it’s for a bouquet, a larger patch of garden or an interior. And maybe even a hot dog.