It turned out that I’d stumbled into a great Aesthetic Movement debate, between the camp of critic John Ruskin, who believed that all great art was inspired by nature, and the camp of designer and architect Charles Eastlake, who found all trompe l’oeil naturalistic effects dishonest and immoral, and instead preferred what the Zingman-Leiths call "two-dimensional, heraldic-looking patterns."
Of course, the question of whether to slap posies on the walls or instead do something more abstract pales besides the sexual controversies surrounding these two. Ruskin, according to wikipedia at least, was one delightfully weird fellow. He married the beautiful Effie Gray, and five years later, she was still a virgin. Effie explained it to her parents this way:
He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April.
In other words, to such an aesthetic fussbudget, a real woman was a problem. So Effie did the only sensible thing–ran off with painter John Everett Millais and promptly had eight children. (The lovely portrait to the right is Effie by Millais.)
Lady Eastlake, Charles’s wife, sided with Effie and began attacking Ruskin in print. In his forties, Ruskin fell in love with a fervently religious eleven year-old girl named Rose La Touche, offering marriage to her as a teenager, only to be turned down by her understandably concerned parents. Rose died at age 27 in a Dublin nursing home, possibly mad, and Ruskin soon went mad himself.
My God, those Victorians were fun!
But I still think flowers belong in the garden and not up on my wall. And I’m curious about how other gardeners feel about representations of nature in their houses.