NO sooner had I published the last post but I got a comment back from a friend who asked how on earth I could write about daffodils without mentioning THAT poem. I confess that obviously Wordsworth had been on my list of possible daffodil references but had quickly been rejected as too trite and hackneyed , and luckily I couldn’t find an obvious link to any historic gardens or parks. So instead I’d like to share some more unusual daffodil-inspired art, but, if you are patient, and read right to the end of this post you’ll find a somewhat tongue in cheek reference to the golden host which I hope will bring a smile to your face.
The daffodil was a frequent subject in Elizabethan and Jacobean writing, from Shakespeare’s “Daffodil’s that comes before the swallow dares, and takes the winds of March with beauty” [Winter’s take Act IV Scene 3] to Michael Drayton’s The Muses Elizium which I used as the title of this post. But the flower was also used in fashion and furnishings too.
This cushion is embroidered with wild and garden flowers and plants, a wonderful example of the English taste for this sort of floral decoration.
Illustrated botanical books and herbals were used frequently as design inspiration, and the flowers here are recognisable species, although their form has been stylised to fit the design of the embroidery. Each heart-shaped compartment has a different flower or plant, which include borage, cornflower, oak, rose, berry, pea, marigold, lily, honeysuckle, bluebell, columbine, heartsease, daffodil, currant and fern.
It can’t be everyday that a piece of furniture is evidence for a historic house and garden, but here is a marquetry portrait of Wingerworth Hall complete with its turrets and surmounting battlements. The house was built in the 1580s and bears similarities to the work of Robert Smythson, who designed nearby Hardwick Hall. The table top provides a unique representation of the original Wingerworth because it was to be rebuilt in the 1720s and then demolished in the 1920s. The circular compartments contain sprays of flowers, three of them identified as roses, anemones and daffodils whilst the spandrels in the corners contain birds. Sadly our database has only got a very basic entry for Wingerworth so if anyone knows more about the house and its garden, then get in touch please.
Another textile piece – a capacious workbag – was given to the V&A by Lord Cowdray, and perhaps the flowers including daffodils with which it is embroidered were gathered in the grounds of Cowdray, now a beautiful ruin in the grounds of Cowdray Park.
And below is a cushion cover made up of a series of smaller individual motifs known as ‘slips’ which were then sewn onto a backing cloth. Each depicts a popular subject, particularly naturalistic plants and animals which have been stylised in order to suit the overall design.
William Kilburn who designed this dress fabric was also a talented botanical artist and the botanist William Curtis employed him to do some of the plates for his 6 volume Flora Londiniensis between 1777 and 1798. The Kilburn album which contains a large number of his watercolours is also in the V&A. There are however few that contain daffodils perhaps indicating that they had indeed fallen out of fashion as I suggested in the last post.
As interest in daffodils revived from the mid-19thc onwards so a parallel increase can be seen in their use as a decorative motif. By the time the Daffodil Society was founded in 1898 daffodils were everywhere in the decorative arts. It was real case of art imitating nature – or rather horticulture.
Prominent amongst the proponents was William Morris and his associates who took up floral themes for their fabric and wallpaper designs and there are several with a daffodil theme. Our database have an entry about Morris’s country house Kelmscott Manor which helped inspire the arts and craft gardening style… but we don’t yet have any images, so if you have any which are clear and which show any of the historic garden features then please get in touch.
This one by Lewis Foreman Day is unusual in that it shows not only the flowers and foliage but the bulbs and roots too.
Walter Crane, the artist and writer of children’s books, also produced several floral textile wallpaper and even carpet designs involving daffodils and other wild flowers. Apart from the contemporary fascination with daffodils it also reflects the revival of interest in wild flowers generally, and their reinstatement as features of garden planting which had been started by William Robinson in The Wild Garden  and later The English Flower Garden . There is a short article on Robinson and his associated gardens at: http://www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/person/1159
Many of these designs, particularly those of Morris and his company, have been in continuous production ever since suggesting that the revival of interest in wild flowers was not just a passing phase in horticulture but one which, despite some vagaries of fashion persists strongly today.
When I started this post I had lots of things I want to include and I haven’t even managed to find room for half, at least that means I’ll have plenty left for the daffodil season next year.
To end this post I promised a comment on THAT poem and here it is…