Early Twentieth Century Flower Arrangements

Written by dawn leslie
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Early Twentieth Century Flower Arrangements
Victorians favoured romantic masses of flowers in their arrangements. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Flower arranging is an art form that allows the arranger creative expression and brings natural beauty into the home. In the early 20th century, tastes in floral arrangements shifted from a preference for romantic massed flowers in elaborate vases to arrangements with simple clean lines. In England and the United States, lush Victorian arrangements made way for simplified modern arrangements influenced by Japanese Ikebana. By 1920, Victorian arrangements were less popular as Oriental style became the trend of the day.

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Victorian Era (1800 to 1920)

Until about 1920, Victorian style flower arrangement from England dominated society tables in the United States. The style is characterised by ornately carved floral containers filled with masses of flowers. Victorian arrangers preferred white and cool colours such as green, blue and lavender. The English tussy-mussy became popular in the United States, especially in the southern states. The U.K. Royal Horticultural Society defines a tussy-mussy as a bouquet of "posies assembled from carefully selected flowers and herbs, usually selected to convey a specific message."

1920s Style

After 1920, floral arrangements imitating Japanese style became popular at design contests in flower shows. Arranged in Oriental bowls or low dishes, a line arrangement may use branches, single flowers or natural items. The line design, using natural lines and an open silhouette, is intended to bring the viewer's eye to a single focal point in the arrangement. Adapted from Asia, line design is now recognised as a traditional American design by the American Rose Society.

Early Twentieth Century Flower Arrangements
Bowls such as this are favoured for flower arrangements reflecting Oriental style influence. (Henry Gan/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Garden Clubs

In the 1930s, garden clubs supported by influential women became popular. At the 1939 World's Fair in Queens, New York, the Garden Club of America helped host the "Gardens on Parade", a five-and-a-half acre exhibition. Individuals and clubs contributed floral arrangements by invitation. The exhibit included rose gardens by Jackson & Perkins, rock gardens and tropical gardens. Participants designed arrangements to match the themes. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited, leaving with " a sweet little corsage of carnations, which gave off the most delicate perfume all the way back to Washington."

Favourite Flowers

Preferences in flower arranging changed in the 20th century, but many of the same flowers stayed popular. A 1933 survey by the Massachusetts North Attleboro Garden Club listed irises, lupins, petunias, peonies and hybrid tea roses as favourites of the period. At her Maryland wedding in 1939, society bride Emlen Davies, a U.S. ambassador's daughter, carried a £47 bouquet designed by Constance Spry New York, Inc. It featured a white rose at the centre, with iris tips, white violets, stocks, and stephanotis.

Early Twentieth Century Flower Arrangements
White roses are a perennial favourite for wedding arrangements. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

American Design

American designers gradually developed their own style, combining Oriental and European methods to create the line-mass. Designers adapted the Victorian style of massing plants, placing a mass of key flowers such as roses at the focal point of the line, generally near the centre. Line-mass design features taller flowers for the line and rounder blooms for the mass near the centre. Line-mass arrangements have a triangular silhouette and are often designed for frontal viewing only. It is also called Contemporary American.

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