The Life and Career Of a Botanical Artist
In the Spring of 2008 a number of A.R. Valentien’s flower portraits were exhibited in the Art Museum on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
This was the first time I had seen his work. Although Valentien had no botanical training he had keen observational skills and his watercolors of Californian wildflowers are accurate, delicate and breathtakingly beautiful.
A.R. Valentien began the formal study of Art at the Cinncinati School of Design at the age of 13. In 1881, he started working at the famed Rookwood Pottery in Ohio where he spent the first part of his professional life.
He was the chief decorative painter at Rookwood for 24 years and painted designs on many vases, tiles and other objects. His wife, Anna, also worked at Rookwood until 1905 when they both decided to move to San Diego, California.
For a decade, between 1908 and 1918, Albert Valentien traveled throughout the entire state of California and painted approximately 1,500 portraits of Californian wildflowers.
He painted on an inexpensive gray paper using gouache (pronounced gwash) and this made his pictures, especially of white flowers, look enchanting and almost luminous.
Exhibiting Valentien’s Artwork
His patron was Ellen Browning Scripps of the well known philanthropic family and her financial backing was crucial to Valentien. Unfortunately, Valentien never lived to see his work published.
After Valentien’s death, Ms. Scripps bequeathed his artwork to the San Diego Natural History Museum. His collection remained relatively unknown until recently when funding became available to allow parts of the collection to be displayed in a variety of small museums, thus arriving at Indiana University’s Art Museum where I had the opportunity to view it.