Floriography : The Language of Flowers

[vc_row][vc_column][ess_grid alias=”portfolio-slider”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Flowers were the inspiration for many of Monet’s most acclaimed works. But in 2014, the flower: a symbol of beauty, vivacity and emotion, was reinvented in France by illustrator, Ruby Cheung. Her self-named “Floriography” draws from her connection to her surroundings, with flowers at its heart. She explains that “for thousands of years, flowers have been associated with particular feelings. The language of flowers is created based on their characteristics, growing habits, or the myths and legends that surround them. These meanings vary across every culture, and some are redefined throughout the years while some remain intact…” We talked to Ruby in order to find out more about her project.

I want to have my own style and let it be my own signature

Bird of Paradise Formes
Bird of Paradise Formes

Her distinct and refreshing style was developed through a process of self-exploration and discovery. “It does take time. You cannot develop a style over night. I want to have my own style and let it be my own signature,” she remarked before revealing the principal artists who influence her work: “Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall are my favourite painters. Matisse’s paper cut outs influenced me the most and my style comes from a love of him.”

Viewing Ruby’s work against the backdrop of her Matissean inspiration, one can appreciate the unmistakable extent of this influence. Matisse’s cut out effect stems from 1941 when he began to experiment with “painting with scissors.” Bedridden during the majority of the last fourteen years of his life, Matisse would arrange his cut out shapes with his assistant, Lydia Delectorskaya, until the desired spacio-relationship was achieved. The shapes were then pinned to the walls of his studio so that the artist could immerse himself into his cut out world. The influence of Marc Chagall, on the other hand, seems to rest primarily in his ability “to convey striking images using only two or three colours.” Both artists are affiliated with the liberating vibrancy of the Fauvist movement, and are tied together succinctly in a statement by Picasso: “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

Flowers came to represent the colours of the heart, and they were passed as incognito gifts between enamored romantics

Ruby brought our attention back to the part the environment had to play in the forming of her artwork by telling us of a “lovely park, Le Jardin des Plantes, in Nantes” where she often photographed the plants and flowers to later work from. She stated that her fascination in flowers led her to research the histories, myths and “stories behind the objects.” An interesting discovery was that Floriography was particularly eminent in the emotionally suppressed society of Victorian Britain. Social etiquette required subtlety and ingenuity from lovers both young and old. As a result, flowers came to represent the colours of the heart, and they were passed as incognito gifts between enamored romantics. A floral dictionary was consequently a common staple in any serious Victorian household, and the meanings implicit within each gifted flower could be spelled out from its pages.

Viola Tricolor Formes
Viola Tricolor Formes

We were particularly eager for Ruby to tell us more about her creative process; how she comes up with an idea and then transforms it into a piece of art. She told Unknown: “They always come from my daily life. My first step is researching and observing – and this takes quite a long time,” she recalled. “I spent a month studying for my ‘floriography’ series. I went to the park several times to study the forms of plants, draw the sketches and transform them into characters. Then, I would draft some sketches on photoshop because I think it is the most effective way. If it’s not a huge size, I usually use gouaches because it is the most convenient material. For the larger drawings, I use Photoshop or oil painting.”

So, what is the meaning behind her work? Ruby explained that she wants to “spread a message.”

“My aim is to present and express the symbols and meanings of the flowers. I have chosen the most appropriate meanings for each flower, and created my own language of flowers.” She offers “Narcissus – Narcissum” as an example: It stems from the mythological story of a man named Narcissus, who was the most handsome man in Greece. One day, he saw his own reflection in the stream and fell in love with it. However, he was unable to embrace his reflection. He pined away in insatiable agony until he killed himself for longing. He transformed into a narcissus flower, which was named after him. Growing up in Asia, the romanticism of this ancient Greek mythology captured Ruby’s attention. Many of her works are combinations of flowers and human figures, “I believe that the meanings of flowers are so human,” remarked Ruby. “I turn the flowers into human figures in order to express the personification of the flowers.”

When asked about her future plans, Ruby told us that she hopes to pursue a career as an illustrator. With the recent publication of her beautiful Floriography illustrations in print, we have no doubt in the success of this endeavor and keenly await hearing about her future projects.


Ruby Cheung currently resides in Nantes, France. More of her work can be found here.

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