Fleurs de Lys

22nd May 1998 to 19th June 1998

Faggionato Fine Arts, Albermarle Street, London


"A modern, white house, surrounded by a tropical garden in a residential area of Havana. Sparsely furnished, with bare walls and large bay windows opening on to heavy, lush greenery, scattered with beautiful orchids bearing large white blooms. A solitary picture on a wall, a turquoise lithograph printed on a thick sheet of paper in a little workshop in the old quarter, run by a skilled craftsman: a palm tree in a field of fleurs-de-lys.

In Paris, Brian Clarke and I often spoke of the lasting impression made on him by a visit to the Sainte Chapelle and his keen interest in heraldic devices, particularly in the lily, which has adorned gardens in many countries down through the ages. But his version is gathered in France, in the field of 'azure strewn with fleurs-de-lys', the royal coat of arms. Brian's objective has narrowed, the paintings depict a single flower, viewed from every angle as if to better explore its petals, since its origins evade us.

No one knows what the first fleurs-de-lys was: an iris, a lotus, trident, battle-axe or dove? The French royal family first endeavoured to appropriate the flower of Mary, the symbol of purity and virginity. From the beginning of the 12th century the House of Capet set about enlisting its power under the sign of the Trinity (the three petals of a flower) taking the place of the three virtues, faith, wisdom and chivalry. The Sainte Chapelle, the Pre-Raphaelites, the persistent presence of the cross in his work (it is always visible in the midst of the lilies), the strict use of heraldic colours, azure, sinople, sable and less frequently, gules. Then the lily, the best known of all charges on a coat of arms, the stained glass windows of Notre-Dame de la Fille Dieu... Is this the work of a man of the church, a scholar of the Middle Ages or that of Professor Clarke who offers his friends an armful of flowers and perhaps a lesson in spirituality? Mythical flowers for a garden of today.” – Christian de Pange, in the introduction to the accompanying catalogue.