Three very tall, thin, straight plant stems with grey and black leaves; on top of each stem is a large red flower

Chrysanthemum, 20th century

Not on Viewexpand_more

In China, flowers and birds were ubiquitous motifs in art. The endurance and resonance of these motifs arose not only from their natural beauty, but also through their cultural associations. The blossoms of chrysanthemum flowers embody purity. Among the last blooms of autumn, they were often regarded as a symbol of a scholarly recluse. Together with the orchid, the plum blossom, and bamboo they comprised a grouping known as the "Four Gentlemen." The flower is a favored motif among literati artists. Qi Baishi, one of the greatest Chinese painters in modern history, executed the flowers in mogu or "boneless style" and the leaves and blossoms are rendered without outline. The mixture of pure ink and red pigment translates the chrysanthemum's aesthetic of lofty elegance into a chaste and royal image.

Jennifer Steinkamp, a contemporary American installation artist, created a similar floral image using different media and conveying different ideas. Hurdy Gurdy Man (Chrysanthemums) (2006) is a computer-animated projection in which Steinkamp has set a traditional still-life subject into motion. A group of delicate, pastel-hued chrysanthemums seems to bob and sway to the Donovan song for which the piece is named. Their movement is mesmerizing, but also vaguely unsettling. The flowers in this work are based on her research of Chinese images of flowers at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles.

Artist Life
1863 - 1957
Accession Number
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email

Does something look wrong with this image? Let us know

Zoom in on the left to the detail you'd like to save. Click 'Save detail' and wait until the image updates. Right click the image to 'save image as' or copy link, or click the image to open in a new tab.

Three very tall, thin, straight plant stems with grey and black leaves; on top of each stem is a large red flower