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Blossoms & Botticelli at the Museum of Fine Arts

Blossoms & Botticelli at the Museum of Fine Arts
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Art in bloom is the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s annual tradition of pairing floral displays with the finest paintings and artifacts. “Don’t use the word interpret,” one flower arranger begged. “It seems presumptuous. You can never match artwork of this caliber. But we do try to complement the works.”

The event, now in its 31st year, is sponsored by the museum’s volunteer group, MFA Associates, which selects the arrangers on a first-come, first-served basis. The museum’s holdings are vast and varied; pairings may range from Dutch oil paintings to Turkish rugs to contemporary sculptures. This year the show will present about 65 displays.

There are no judges, no prizes. But still, considering that 20,000 visitors stream into the MFA for Art in Bloom, the challenge might make anyone other than a Michelangelo faint of heart. The arrangers spend much time communing with their subjects and refining their vision.

Shirley Minott of the Walnut Hill Garden Club was assigned to Peonies Blown in the Wind, a floriferous stained-glass window created by John LaFarge in 1886. Shirley did not want to use a single peony in her display. “The challenge,” she explains, “is to create a floral arrangement that doesn’t duplicate the work of art.” She decided to go abstract: “I saw shapes, color, and texture in motion as my starting point,” echoing the forms and shades of the glass peonies with orbs of carnations, unified by a palm frond.

Donna C. Morrissey of the Garden Club of the Back Bay composed a counterpoint to A Pavane, a painting of four dancers on stage, done by Edwin Austin Abbey in 1897. “There’s a chemistry,” she says, describing the intimacy between art and arranger. “It opens your eyes to the artwork … It’s all about choices. You have to consult the spirit of the piece, and the plant material is expressive of your reaction … What I wanted was a combination of delicacy and strength.” In a horizontal arrangement, kentia palms and long sprays of oncidium orchids capture the movement of the dancers’ outstretched hands, while Hypericum berries, eremuri, and roses pick up the patterns in the robes and tapestries.

When the doors fling open for Family Day, the public pours in to applaud the arrangers’ efforts. Florists, schoolchildren, and art students attend. The displays are dramatic and instructive, as well as beautiful. They stand side by side with Sargents, O’Keeffes, and van Goghs — and do them justice.

Art in Bloom, April 21-24, 2007. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Boston, MA. 617-267-9300; mfa.org

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