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Retro Love: Speaking the Language of Nature

Now picture this in your head: The breeze drifting across the mountains, the bright moon shining above the river, and the birds chirping and dancing among the flowers and trees. When you immerse yourself in the thrilling beauty of nature, you are irresistibly drawn to its charm.

If you look at the world of fashion, you realise that it has long regarded the aesthetics of nature as a classic element that has travelled through centuries to inspire and trigger desires. Some people incorporate natural elements into everyday clothing designs; some use botanical wonders to decorate their life, bringing colours to mundane things. After all, who can resist the temptation of natural art?

In 18th century England, Robert John Thornton, English physician and botanical writer, teamed up with some of the top engravers and naturalist painters to create a collection of nature illustrations, “The Temple of Flora”. As they painted the flowers and insects they found in their life with delicate brush strokes, vivid images leapt off the page. Thornton’s fervent love of flora enabled him to guard each one of them from time’s decay—serene, alive and still captivating to this day.


The Pontic Rhododendron from “The Temple of Flora”

Robert John Thornton


MFA, Boston


People’s love of nature is primitive. They praise the beauty of nature through all forms of art: books, paintings and music, embracing it in every detail of their lives.

When Paul Theodor van Brussel, one of the most brilliant 18th century Dutch floral painters, prepared the canvas and mixed colours with his brushes on that ordinary day in 1789, he made history. By recording these unusual flower scenes in radiant colours, perhaps he never anticipated that this series of still-life oil paintings of flowers and fruits would travel beyond the boundary of time to enchant people of all times.


Fruit and Flowers

Paulus Theodorus van Brussel


National Gallery


Back then, Paul Theodor van Brussel was only painting to make a living. When he moved to Amsterdam, he became immensely obsessed with the lush greenery there. The grass, the trees, and the tiny bugs shuttling back and forth among the petals. The more he gazed at them, the more he was inspired to recreate them on canvas.

Such passion for nature is so great that it penetrates the canvas and flows with the seasons. 

This harvest season, all living things exuberate with vital energy. With flowers blossoming, birds and insects picking mouth-watering fruits, people have also thrown themselves into nature’s embrace, harvesting the results of this year’s effort, as well as the beauty of the golden season.

How could such a bountiful harvest not trigger one’s desire to create? 

From commonly seen fruits such as pears and grapes to precious items like pineapples and porcelain rarely seen in the 18th century, people celebrate nature’s creations, and painters document them. Those who admire the paintings may wonder whether people in distant lands are feeling the same joy of harvest, or they just want to behold the fascinating glory of the exotic fruits that have come afar.


The Labours of the Months: October

Italian, Venetian


National Gallery




Raphael Kirchner 


MFA, Boston


Regardless of the changing times, classics never fade.

In the past, people spent money to appreciate the delicate images with their own eyes. Nowadays, people apply advanced technology to digitize these images, printing them onto a whole variety of different objects. It seems that in this way, we can share the joy and gratitude towards nature with the people who lived hundreds of years ago. The enduring power of art reflects the undying love people hold for nature in different times.

Gift from the Land series product mock-up ©ARTiSTORY

When the rich-coloured flora and fauna centuries ago still capture the heart of modern admirers and are the source of inspiration for modern art, this emotion has turned into an omnipotent resonance. Again, people are given the chance to return to the basics, to the original simplicity shared by every creator in the past. 

It is a tribute to the classics and a heartfelt conversation with history.

The article is inspired by ARTiSTORY 2022 Theme - Botanical Affairs
Botanical Affairs, The Temple of Flora, Fruit and Flowers, MFA, National Gallery, museum, ARTiSTORY
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