Friday, July 07, 2006

Nymphaea alba

click photo to enlarge
"See, dear, what thy lover brings;
'Tis the flower with the white wings.
Buoyed upon the quiet stream
In the spring it lay adream." from With a Water-Lily, Hendrik Ibsen (1828-1906), Norwegian playwright

The beauty of the water lily (Nymphaea family) has long been recognised, probably because it is one of the largest flowers that blooms on the surface of ponds, streams and rivers. Its beauty has caused it to achieve a special status in many cultures.

The ancient Egyptians gave particular prominence to two species of water lily (N. caerulia and N. lotus), the latter also known as the lotus flower. In their architecture the flower was used as inspiration for the capital of a widely used column, and both flowers appear regularly in painting and carving. It continues to be the national flower of that country. Bangladesh gives the flower a similar prominence, featuring it on the national insignia and medals. Hinduism and Buddhism hold the flower to be sacred, and a pink blossomed variety is frequently used in religious art.

The most common species of water lily found in Britain (and much of Europe) is N. alba, shown above. Claude Monet (1840-1926) is widely known for his impressionistic paintings of this variety that grew (and still grows) in his garden at Giverny in France. Other artists who have been inspired by the flower include the poets, Ted Hughes, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the playwright Ibsen. Most painters and writers have celebrated its beauty, but others have written about the tension surrounding a loveliness that has its birth in murky depths.

I was fortunate to be able to reach over the water to capture my image of a water lily, and consequently I made the
subject the flower alone. The deep yellow, anemone-like centre, and the radial overlapping white petals are familiar enough. However, it was early evening when I took the photograph, and the low sun was making attractive shadows and textures within the petal, and also showing a warm hint of pink towards the base of the bud. This gave a quality I hadn't noticed before. I used a macro lens for the shot, and did a little post-processing to darken the surrounding water.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen