PATRICIA JOHANSONReturn to Timeline Biography


LES FLEURS DE FRANCE celebrates the history and culture of France through the lens of two simple flowers. "Iris pseudacorus" and "Rosa gallica" are united in their elemental design, elegance, and recurrent appearance in French art and architecture, history and myth.

"Rosa gallica", the Rose of Provins, is known as "The French Rose". In the gardens of both Marie Antoinette and Empress Josephine, Pierre Joseph Redoute created studies for his exquisite engravings in LES ROSES, justifiably among the most famous illustrations in the world. Like the rose window in the great cathedrals of France, Redoute's engravings are known for their translucence-the light from within.

The twelve petals of "Rosa gallica", like the twelve converging avenues at the Arc de Triomphe, or the rose window in the western facade of Chartres, reinforces the power of symmetry as it transforms into art. By day the rose is a "secret garden". At the center a melange of sculptural stamens recalls the "Marais" at Versailles, with its metal water-spouting reeds. At night, especially when viewed from the second story reception area, a glowing pattern of jewel-like colors suggests the Plate Tracery of Chartres.

At the front of the garden "Iris pseudacorus" combines a publicly visible water feature with the art of the trellis. Petals frame the view, both into the garden, and out to Central Park, conveying a sense of sculptural form and creative engineering. It was the golden reflection of this Yellow Flag Iris that reportedly guided Clovis' army across the Rhine. Since that time the little iris adopted by Clovis as his symbol has been transformed into the fleur-de-lys, and has appeared in countless representations, from Saint Chapelle and the banner Louis VII carried to the Crusades, to the present day.

In sunlight the iris is sometimes accented with rainbow spectrums, reminding us of both the magical and scientific aspects of natural light. It was the scientific investigations of Chevreul that inspired the Impressionist painters, and even the tiniest garden contains a host of natural phenomena. The stem of the iris—axial planning in miniature—merges with the more free-flowing stem of the rose, offering alternate approaches to landscape design. Whether filled with flowing water or reflective glass, art and nature become one. At night the sculptural sepals of the "fleur-de-lys" are bathed in golden light, creating a landmark that is easily visible from buses.

Panels of blue, white, and red lighting, reminiscent of the theatrical spectacles designed for the great French gardens may also suggest the Flag of the Republic. Sensuous and sculptural broderie has burst out of functional parterres.

How can a great culture be condensed into a small, finite space? The answer is suggested by Marcel Proust. LES FLEURS DE FRANCE is designed to stimulate imaginative wanderings in the brain. The beauty and immensity of the French Formal Garden becomes a miniature space that expands in the mind.