Thank you, everyone, for your comments – the kernel of which is captured below.

Lisa Townsend


You article is extremely interesting and you make very good points. There is an exhibition I just saw and the whole concept rested on the idea that everybody in Victorian times recognised ” the language of flowers” as a done deal. I had read your first piece, and I felt like stapling a copy of it to everything there. I have always been literary more than visual arts, but have recently started oil painting. I find your perspicacity deeply enjoyable. One of my fave things on fb … Looking forward to part 3!


Can we identify the flowers in Ford Madox Brown’s Work ? 

Iain France


In a world dominated by transient, meaningless, insubstantial waffle, this site shines through for what it is.  Really lovely!  Thank you for sharing your research in this way.  I would love to know more about Ford Madox Brown’s basket of wild things. What do you think they could be referencing if not the Victorian language of flowers?

Martin Beek


In Ford Madox Brown’s Work, he is much concerned, as Carlyle was, with social classes and divisions. So the forget-me-nots are “a connection that lasts through time”  -something Carlyle is pointing out to Maurice in the extreme right of the painting.  The flower itself has an obvious meaning of remembrance. FMB is at his most Hogarthian in this painting: it is so full of symbols it is positively bursting. 

Amanda Davey

If they are forget-me-nots they are a tad exaggerated … they would be little dustings of dots from that distance. Since they foraged in the country they will be wild and the colour is intriguing. How about wild violets? These have their own symbolism, of course, but would have had personal meaning as well …

I’m still hung up on the flower seller and have just found this about the root sellers that was according to Wikipedia the inspiration for the figure in Work (FMB) which specifically refers to violets and also to the new flowers (with roots) being seen as harbingers of spring… symbols are there for the age of the painting and hard to read by later generations. My mother went through a phase of painting blue tits on milk bottles, already a lost experience!

Katie Palmer Heathman


I’ve always ‘read’ this figure as a watercress seller, as watercress was a common food sold by poor street vendors in the period. The flowers look similar to forget-me-nots though. There is definitely a cress seller featured in Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

Why did James Whistler paint pink azaleas in Symphony in White, No 2: the Little White Girl?

Martin Beek


I think Whistler’s primary reason for the azaleas was aesthetic – “Art should be independent of all clap-trap – should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear.” Here is a link to my recent talk.

Peter Green


I think the azaleas along with the blue and white vase and the fan with what could easily be a woman in a kimono design are there to send a message that Whistler really, really liked the prints by Hokusai and Uchido that were starting to be part of a craze for Japonaiserie that Gilbert and Sullivan wittily skewered in The Mikado. Plus, unlike the PRB, he seems to have been more interested in colour than narrative.

Timothy Hanson


It’s interesting that Smith’s PhD analysis (that is now over 40 years old) has hitherto been a constant reference point. A fresh analysis has been long overdue.

I’m hoping that the series of paintings questioned in the first article will be revisited later on, and I was not aware of Tirebuck’s analysis. I have sympathy with his view that Rossetti’s art might be argued to have an inherent weakness if it needs to be expanded upon by inscriptions – and there has only been a handful of articles criticising how one is meant to see the picture and read the verse at the same time -or the rather wearisome reference to what his brother records so that his pictures are treated as virtually autobiographical. (I think there are dangers in this also, not least as William will have sought to protect his brother’s reputation and suppress certain aspects.)

I am excited to read on….My current suspicion is that there may have been certain trends at the time that particular paintings were painted, but much depends on the individual artist at particular stages in their careers. The position is further complicated, however, by artists casting back to bygone ages where the trends and practices might be different (eg the time of Titian), so that the overall position say in Rossetti’s art might be inconsistent and rather confused when looked at overall? 

I have to confess that my feeling with Rossetti is that he includes things for a particular purpose rather than just decoration, although his paintings are also decorative. (Hence my desire to know more about your first article’s paintings!) I imagine that you go on to argue that there are many paths that an artist can wander down when deciding to include a flower, perhaps the then current associations (this flower means this, as sometimes said with jewellery) or appealing to its physical attributes, its use in a past genre that is being alluded to, or just as decoration etc but I shall have to wait for the next instalments as the mysteries unravel! 


 I’m planning on posting a close visual analysis of all three paintings you mention later in the year:  Millais’s Trust Me, Whistler’s Symphony in White No2: The Little White Girl and Ford Madox Brown’s Work.  The crocus, azalea and wild flowers (if that is what they are) may “mean” nothing at all …… but everyone has suggested some interesting  possibilities. Something I haven’t shared yet is a suggested methodology for approaching flowers in Pre-Raphaelite art.  This five-stage approach brings some consistency to the inconsistent situation you describe, although necessarily, as we all bring something different to an appreciation of an artwork, it is a desirable thing to be inconsistent! Keep the conversation going and thank you for your responses. 

Why did John Everett Millais paint crocus in Trust Me?

Peter Green


The crocus could indicate early spring – locating where the picture is in time – or possibly symbolising ‘early awakening’ or ‘coming out of winter’? The story could be that the father doesn’t want her sending love letters (her heart is opening with the flowers after winter) while she is dressed in mourning black?

Jason Dempsey

An early sign of spring … new life … new awakenings … innocence perhaps …?

Heidi Wyldewood


The crocus is a symbol of gladness and hope, but also the name of a young man who was in love with a nymph called Smilax. It was a forbidden love, and the gods turned him into a plant, the crocus so perhaps in this painting it is to do with secret love and the disapproval of it.

Betty DCruz


Trust is traditionally symbolised by freesias. Could they be freesias?

Rosie von Engel


They are inside of the house – symbols of life and warmth in winter?

James Dignan


The crocus is a symbol of eternal hope and love.

Chris Williams


Isn’t it also in bloom very early – in winter ? Sorry gardeners would know ? i.e. a sign of new life / recovery from winter / darkness etc.

Susan Seth


I’m guessing she is hiding a love letter from her father.  He holds a whip representing authority, but the emerging spring flowers are placed between them … maybe a symbol of the power of her new love and future. Millais uses a vase of spring flowers set between father and daughter in his painting The North West Passage, which similarly would seem to be a symbol of youth and new life.

Olcay B. Connor


Blossoming, meaning is the spring of love.

Martin Beek


This is a work that also has some links with his earlier Pre-Raphaelite painting The Woodman’s Daughter after the Coventry Patmore poem.  This is also a spring setting for a story that eventually unfolds in disaster (played out by innocent children.) Certainly I’d say the crocus in this instance suggest spring love, white also innocence, purple sometimes alludes to the religious meaning often used in lent – a season of denial and Christ’s passion. Whether that is deliberate here or not I can’t say. There is also the clear imbalance of power father/daughter man/woman and a narrative similar to many of his contemporaneous illustrations to Trollope. (Orley Farm, for instance.)

Amanda Davey


I’m I’m intrigued by this topic in relation to Edmund Blair Leighton as pretty much all of his paintings had roses in them and the use does not appear stylistic. His wife tended a rose garden at their summer cottage in Norfolk and there was a gardener called Thomas Blair who developed roses that are still in cultivation today who might have been a distant connection… their use seems more personal in his paintings than just as props, although nuns walking in white rose gardens is very obvious symbolism of course!! 


Having looked at the excellent resource on the Art Renewal Center (, I was excited to find more than a hundred artworks created by Edmund Blair Leighton, many of which contained flowers.  His great love of roses certainly shone through.  I will most definitely include a number of these in a dedicated close analysis as a later date. 

Martin Beek


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and some later adherents as your article implies, were more connected with the symbolism or flowers and plants that already existed from classical and Biblical sources.  In Millais’s work and Hunt’s the meanings are quite deliberate, whereas in later works by Rossetti they tend to often be for aesthetic reasons.

Millais in 1850’s is interesting, but more conventional after 1865 in the floral symbolism. Burne-Jones is worth looking at with regard to symbolic flowers. Arthur Hughes as well. WHH tends to stick with time honoured classical and Biblical symbolism, although rarely is anything left to chance in his work! Some of the “Pot-Boilers” have good floral and natural settings. Millais is my main area of study, mainly the later work. Here is a link to one of my talks.

Millais in 1850’s is interesting, but more conventional after 1865 in the floral symbolism. Burne-Jones is worth looking at with regard to symbolic flowers. Arthur Hughes as well. WHH tends to stick with time honoured classical and Biblical symbolism, although rarely is anything left to chance in his work! Some of the “Pot-Boilers” have good floral and natural settings. Millais is my main area of study, mainly the later work. Here is a link to one of my talks.

Susan Seth

One thing I always bear in mind and could be worthy of discussion , many of the subjects are Shakespearean and the PRBs refer to early interpretation of flower meanings, for example Millais Ophelia, in her final scene she hands out flowers which may have a different meaning from the Victorian interpretation.