The Feathered Hat by M. Jean McLane

Art of the Week

At this time of year in Middle Tennessee, natural splendor often outperforms any human-made art.

But at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, the historic home of Nashville’s Cheek family that was converted into open gardens and an art museum in 1960, nature and artist have come together in an exhibition meant to celebrate the former in ways uniquely possible through the latter.

“In Bloom: Works from Cheekwood’s Collection” features paintings from the estate’s vast permanent collection of fine art — which totals dozens of pieces from notable 20th century American painters like Robert Henri, John Sloan and William Glackens; modern and post-modern creators like Andy Warhol, Jamie Wyeth and David Hockney; and local artists like Red Grooms, William Edmondson and Louise Dahl-Wolfe. But this show presents just those works inspired by Spring’s favorite muse: flowers.

“In Bloom,” which will be on view in the estate’s museum until September 1, gives visitors a new lens by which to contemplate the color, diversity and fragility of flowers. It won’t hurt that they have to walk through Cheekwood’s dazzling array of flower beds first to get to the museum.

The Feathered Hat by M. Jean McLane, for instance, an impressionistic rendering of a near-featureless woman in a floral-printed shirt, demonstrates just how defining flowers can be in artwork.

“The woman is not given any distinguishable features other than her dress and accoutrements,” according to a statement from Cheekwood. “The woman finds her identity in the botanicals on her dress. She sees herself in the strength and beauty of the flowers.”

McLane (born Myrtyle Jean MacLane) was best known for her intimate portraits of women and children. When asked to help depict the Allied leaders of World War I, she produced a portrait of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, the only female subject in the series, that now hangs in the National Museum of American Art. Her work is also in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

This study on defining ourselves through flowers is a central theme for a show that connects Cheekwood’s natural bounty with its human-made one.

“The exchange of flowers exists as an expression of human intimacy,” per the museum. “When words fail, flowers step in to evoke the deepest of human emotions, including love and loss… This exhibition connects the indoor with the outdoor and continues the visitor’s experience of flowers through the museum.”

The Cheekwood Estate & Gardens are located in Belle Meade, 1200 Forrest Park Drive.

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