Like spring flowers, his art resurfaced

The French Huguenot painter Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (c. 1533 to 1588) was valued in his time as an artist who would record accurately what he observed. He worked in his native France, traveled to Florida as part of an official French expedition, and eventually settled in England to escape religious persecution.

In addition to his record of the Florida expedition, he left behind remarkable paintings of flowers and fruits. But these images, with their sensitive drawing and truthful color, remained unknown to the art world until a number showed up in the 20th century. A book intended to be a comprehensive survey of his known paintings was published in 1977. Since then, several other works have surfaced and been identified as his. The painting shown here is one such, sold in a Sotheby's auction in January.

Le Moyne's botanical paintings convey the pleasure of recognition. He didn't paint rare plants. Certainly the wild daffodils he portrayed were immensely common. His contemporary, the herbalist and author John Gerard, saw no need to describe them in words. But Le Moyne showed no such hesitation with his paintbrush.

Le Moyne lived in a century when plants began to be appreciated for their appearance, and not simply for their folk-cure properties. Both Le Moyne and Gerard contributed to this development. Gerard's description of the periwinkle is concerned with detailed accuracy, even though he adds that they were also commonly known. His words would be a perfect caption for Le Moyne's depiction of this spreading plant: "Periwinkle ... hath slender and long branches, taking hold here and there as it runneth.... The flowers grow hard by the Leaves, spreading wide open, composed of five small blue leaves.... They grow in most of our London gardens."

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