We have just started a New Year a few days ago. That’s right! We’re talking about the Chinese New Year, otherwise known as the Spring Festival! Friday, 12th February marked the first day of the Ox Year.
Here, at The Peony Girl, it is a special and festive time. On the one hand, it’s because our founder, Siyuan Ren, comes from China and Chinese traditions and holidays are dear to her heart. Many of her paintings are created in Chinese Gongbi style.
Another reason is that Chinese New Year is like an anniversary for The Peony Girl, or maybe even like a birthday! You probably don’t know that it was during one memorable Chinese New Year when Siyuan Ren realised she had a passion for painting peonies - and that was the moment when her peonies came to life! Now, as the celebration of the Chinese New Year continues, we want to share that story with you.
Peony - the favoured flower of the Far East
First, let us tell you that in many Asian countries, like China or Japan, peony symbolises many positive things. It is the epitome of elegance and beauty, signifies abundance and wealth, and brings good luck.
In China, where the peony originates from, it was historically associated with the emperor. To this day, it is a very important traditional symbol, regarded as the “King of Flowers” and unofficially seen as the national flower by the Chinese people. Can there be a higher recognition for a plant?
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Peony - a sheltered luxury
First of all, peonies - and we’re talking about real flowers, not the ones painted or embroidered - are not such a common sight in everyday life in China. Tree peonies require space and care - they are shrubs that grow for many, many years. And in China, where people live in high-rise buildings in highly concentrated cities (you can read about it and see some examples of Chinese cities here), space is a luxury and private gardens are extremely rare.
Even if people grow something at home, it’s usually something green and easy to take care of. So most of the times Siyuan saw peonies in art - peony paintings in galleries, created in a very traditional and not appealing to her - and not real, fresh flowers.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Secondly, cut flowers can be quite costly. They’re often given as expensive, decadent gifts. When Siyuan was in school, they were simply out of her price range. Once in a while, all she could buy at the florist was a single stem lily once in a while - and spend all her pocket money on it.
There might have also been something else - sometimes, you have to travel thousands of miles to appreciate something that was there with you from the beginning. It sometimes happens that we don’t notice the beauty of the place we come from or something that seems too familiar, too dull.
Peony flower rediscovered
I wasn’t until she left China that flowers started to frequently appear in Siyuan’s life. First, she went to Holland - a country known for its tulips and a paradise for flower lovers! There are fresh flowers in all kinds of colours and varieties. There were so many flowers to admire - in the famous garden such as Keukenhof Garden and stores alike - not only beautiful and of good quality, but also affordable. From that moment, she started surrounding herself with fresh flowers more and more.
Then Siyuan came to England. Here, she continued enjoying flowers, buying them and decorating her home with them. One day, she bought beautiful, pink flowers she hadn’t seen before. She was curious to know what they were, so she looked them up. To her surprise, they were peonies! The fresh, real peony flowers looked completely different from what she saw in traditional Chinese paintings - they were also herbaceous peonies, not tree peonies. She fell in love with them instantly. She began to take photos of them and sketch them, wanting to capture their re-discovered beauty.
Peony - The Peony Girl’s favourite subject
Then, during one Spring Festival, Siyuan wanted to do something special to celebrate the Chinese New Year. She took out the photos of peonies she had previously taken - and she started painting them. She was fascinated by abundant, multi-layered peony petals and she wanted to challenge herself and see if she could paint them - and when she did, she was pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoyed the process!
During that time, two paintings came to life: "Chilled Passion" and "Peony Blossom: Gold". Although these paintings are not directly related to the theme of Chinese New Year, they contain Chinese symbols and convey Siyuan’s feelings and nostalgia for the Spring Festival’s atmosphere she felt at that time, with an added layer of inspiration from English romantic aesthetics.
Every Spring Festival is a reminder of that unique time when The Peony Girl came to life and she started painting flowers you can see today. We hope that we your beginning of the Chinese New Year is inspiring and full of magic as well! We want to wish you everything best for this Year of the Ox.
Happy Chinese New Year!