This week I’ve had chrysanthemums on my mind. Yes, I know it’s a bit late – they tend to flower in September or October, not November. But I have November fixed in my head because every year the Shinjuku Gyoen Botanical Gardens in Tokyo hold a chrysanthemum show, and it’s on now.
Unfortunately I’m not in Tokyo to see it, though I did do a post about the show in 2011. So I wondered if there was a way to recreate the experience back home.
I got quite excited when I discovered the National Chrysanthemum Society holds two autumn shows – an early one in September and a late one which is actually on today. But it’s in Stafford (Bingley Hall County Showground if you live in Birmingham and you’re interested), which is a bit too far from London to make a sensible day trip. And a trip round some of the London Parks revealed that their formal plantings are mostly over for the year, although they do offer the fascinating sight of finely crumbled and beautifully raked earth lovingly prepared for next year.
So I decided to go for an East-West fusion chrysanthemum art show instead.
Chrysanthemums have a much greater cultural significance in Japan than they do in the UK. It’s the national flower, the emblem of the chrysanthemum throne, the symbol on Japanese passports. It even appears on the 50 yen coin.
Whereas in the UK, it’s a more ordinary, loveable sort of flower – what could be less regal than a bunch of mums? But there’s more in common than you might think.
Chrysanthemums were originally grown in China, but were adopted as their national flower by Japan as far back as the eighth century, and probably reached us by that route.
This picture by nineteenth century artist/explorer Marianne North is titled Japanese chrysanthemums cultivated in this country.
A rather more homely approach than that of eighteenth century Japanese artist Ito Jakuchu.
The Impressionists were very influenced by Japanese art, but what Monet and Fantin Latour (see his picture of chrysanthemums in a vase above) do with chrysanthemums is still a lot different from what Hokusai came up with.
On the domestic front, in Japan they have amazingly embroidered kimonos:
Or finely carved netsuke:
We have William Morris wallpaper:
But we come together when it comes to china – Like these eighteenth century porcelain cups and plates, from Meissen and Arita.
They’re pretty similar, aren’t they? Not surprising as the Meissen one followed the Arita model (though not necessarily this actual one).
So maybe we have more in common than we think when it comes to chrysanthemums. Except the flowering season, of course.