The Flowers of Evil – Thomas Theodore Heine

I have really enjoyed the gauntlets which some people have thrown down for me, but you can always guarantee that someone will throw something your way that makes the cogs tick more than most.  I can thank Artschaft for throwing this head scratcher at me.

Heine was a german artist, born in 1867.   He was a painter and illustrator and early on he established himself as caricaturist.  Studying art at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and, for a short time at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.  In 1896 he became successful as an illustrator for the satirical Munich magazine Simplicissimus, where he became know for a range of techniques which mimicked styles from wood block art to images which replicated artists such as Lautrec and Beardsley.  The illustrations critiqued social orders, and the monarchy in particular, that he made for the magazine led to a six-month prison sentence in 1898.  He also began work as a book illustrator in the 1890s.  He fled Germany in 1933, first to Prague. From 1938 until 1942 he lived in Oslo, and from 1942 until his death in 1948 he lived in Stockholm.

‘The Flowers of Evil’ was illustrated by Heine in 1895 in an art nouveau style.  You can see the purple looming sky and the pink of a sunrise on the horizon line. In the foreground we see a couple, the woman sat on what appears to be a form of throne and the man guiding her hand to the stem of the lady slipper orchids which are in a vase next to her.

This picture is fairly mysterious as there is little explanation as to what Heine was edging at when this was created.  It could easily be assumed that this picture relates to text of the same title “The Flowers of Evil” by Baudelaire.  This is a volume of poetry which deals with decadence and erotism in a symbolist view and was written in 1857.  Baudelaire was prosecuted for this book and fine 300 Francs and six of the poems were banned.  The ban on the poems was not lifted until 1949.

It is quite understandable how this picture could be thought to be related to this text, with the orchid being a symbol of eroticism, and the man leading the woman’s hand to the flower, but I actually think that this piece is a lot cleverer than just linking the poetry of a depraved society.

As ever, there seems to be a link to Greek mythology, although his in itself is fairly spurious.  On the corner of the throne sits an undecorated Grecian urn, as if history (if you want to call myth history) has not yet been written.

The man in the picture does resemble Memnon, the Ethiopian King warrior who fought in the Trojan war.  A bust of Memnon can be found in the Altes Museum in Berlin, and you can see the resemblance:-


Memnon was the son of Eos (daughter of the Titan Hyperion and goddess of the dawn – hence the backdrop in the picture of a sunrise) and Tithonus.  Eos had taken Tithonus to Ethiopia as she was in love with him, and there they created the city of Susa.  Here is where Memnon was born.  It is said that Tithonus was bribed to send his son in to battle with golden grapes.

Memnon was a hero of the Trojan War, a King of Ethiopia who led his armies from Africa into Asia Minor to help defend the city but was ultimately slain by Achilles. You can now see statues associated to Memnon in Egypt the association was due to reported cry at dawn which came from the statue. Eventually, the entire Theban Necropolis became generally referred to as the Memnonium.  It is an interesting crossover between the Greek and Egyptian mythologies, and there is also talk of Memnon being the father of Thor…the germanic god, although to bring this link to fruition would probably take me an entire post.  Regardless, I think that the man in this picture therefore is a representation of war and fallen heros.

The Orchid, was my stumbling block in this, until I remembered a short story of how the orchid got its name.  During a festival of Bacchus a young man named Orchis as in attendance.  As we all know festivals of this nature are fuelled by drink, and it would seem that the man could not control his urges, and tried to rape Bacchante the high priestess.  Enraged by this act, the rest of the attendees tore Orchis to pieces.  His father begged the gods to make him whole again, but they refused, choosing rather to make him the pieces of him turn in to flowers to replace the sin with beauty… and the orchid was born.  This then leads me to believe that the women could therefore be Bacchante the high priestess.

I appreciate that this all feels like it could be really random bits of information at the moment, but I think that this could possibly be a very clever social commentary from Heine.

With the man and the woman together, these represent religion (also an icon of purity) and war, the flowers representing acts of atrocities which come about through these mediums.  I mean let’s face it while most religions are about being good to one another, they are also the means of most wars, this could also have a standing in making a statement around the Abushiri revolt (This was an insurrection in 1888–1889 by the Arab and Swahili population of the areas of the East African coast which were granted (under protest) to Germany by the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1888. It was eventually suppressed by an Anglo-German blockade of the coast).

It’s also a little prophetic for Heine as he was brought up Jewish, yet changed his beliefs to protestant due to rising issues with the jewish community and the Nazi regime in his later life.

What do you see in ‘The Flowers of Evil’?  Why not tell me in the comments?  Like this post?  Why not share it?



9 thoughts on “The Flowers of Evil – Thomas Theodore Heine

Add yours

  1. Wow, you just blew me away! I’m so in awe, Sherlock Holmes got nothing on you. I’m thinking the purple sky could also be a reference to religion. I really like how you picked up on the symbolism and even identified the man in the person of Memnon.

    I bow to you, Grecian goddess! Sorry I didn’t reply earlier, I must have missed your post in my feed.


    1. Thank you 😊 and no problems I’m only ever hear for you guys to read when you have time 😊 I will admit you gave me something that didn’t automatically click with me… it’s taken me 3 days to figure it out (in my own opinion obviously) but I’m really glad you liked it 😊 thanks again for the challenge

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t really know how you do it. The consistency, the volume of writing, the research behind it… day after day. You should be a writer full time.

        I wish I could give you 100 more likes. Thank you for your thorough post and all the research that went into it. Good thing for that urn too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I really enjoy writing and I’d love to go into it full time, and I’m a geek, I love the research side of it. Feel free to sling anything you like at me… it really does keep me entertained 😊👍

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I had to read this post twice just to grasp the information, well presented indeed. Very enlighting informative. Literally, a picture is worth a thousand words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is like you said, “you crave detail” and your approach is unassuming. I think these two factors combine very well in this particular post. I certainly won’t forget this picture. Not to mention, I am from East Africa and live in Oslo, but that’s certainly a coincidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Without your eyes and knowledge, I see a European in the hard, pale, stone seat of classicism, with an African showing there is another way of looking at the world. Putting aside all the evils of the colonial land grab, and the (re-) enslavement by Europeans of Africans, the new dawn is the discovery of all that is good that Africa can show Europe, exemplified by the simple tropical orchids.

    But what a continuing joy looking through your eyes.


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