Peonies of Paris, Queen of Flowers

Peonies at the Paris Market - Georginna Lane

Like ballerinas in their tutus pirouetting at the Paris Opera, each peony season in Paris is a flutter of petal delight.

(Opening image credit, Georgianna Lane.)


Christiane lemieux
Fluttering like ballerina tutus. Designer Christiane Lemieux captures the peony in full bloom.

Each late May and early June the peony unfurls to become the belle flower of the Paris ball. Layered like bolls of pretty pink hued fabric, the peony presented each spring and early summer for the florists to collect and for the world to see.

Image Georgianna Lane
Peonies of Paris markets by author of Paris in Bloom Georgianna Lane.

Like so many performers and artists who have found themselves in in the city love and lights from afar, the peony was introduced to France by the Chinese emperor, Qianlong in the 18th Century as a gift to Empress Josephine, Napoléon Bonaparte’s wife.

Bowl with Peonies and Roses, 1886. With thanks to Wikiart.

China had been the cultivating the ‘Queen of flowers’ since the 7th century. Josephine fell in love with the peony, growing it in her beloved garden at Chateau de la Malmaison. Peonies became highly prized by the French aristocracy and became a symbol of wealth and status.

Vase with Flowers Pierre-Joseph Redouté
Vase with Flowers Pierre-Joseph Redoute recognised as the Raphael of Flowers, 1799.

Like a muse, artists began to paint the peony including French artist, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, who created beautiful watercolours of the peonies and gained the title ‘the Raphael of Flowers’.


Paul Gauguin Bouquet of Peonies on a Musical Score, 1876

Monet, Gauguin, Manet, and Vincent van Gogh painted the peony. Indeed, even Australian artists were besotted by the peony with Darlinghurst artist John Russell’s Peony work now hanging in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Peonies and head of a Woman - John Russell
Peonies and Head of a Woman, Australian Artist John Russell, 1887. Australian Impressionists in France exhibition at the NGV.

Recognised as a healing plant whose flowers are edible, the Peony is named after Paeon, a disciple of Asclepius, the god of medicine. According to legend, Asclepius became jealous of his pupil, and so Zeus transformed Paeon into a peony flower to protect him from his mentor’s wrath. The flower is also known as a symbol of compassion.

Edouard Manet - Peony - Little French Heart
Peony by Edouard Manet, who grew them in his garden.

Respected German apothecary and botanist Basilius Besler (1561–1629) has perhaps created the illustration that most resembles the peony on some of the French decor and clothing at Little French Heart.

besler-crimson-peony-Litttle French Heart
Apothecary and botanist Basilius Besler, mid 17th Century.

Here you can see the antique printed fabrics featuring the peony that designer Anne Millet has drawn on, part of our Bonjour Diary range of beautiful children’s clothing.


Bonjour Long Dress Cashmere full length - Little French Heart
Bonjour Diary Cashmere and Provence Peony Long Dress found at Little French Heart
Bonjour Pinafore dress full birds flowers - Little French Heart
Bonjour Pinafore, Birds and Flowers with antique poeny prints adoring the bodice and hem.

The Victorian language of flowers notes that the peony represents good fortune and a happy marriage. Peonies generally symbolise prosperity, good luck, love and honour; and make beautiful gifts.

Today, if you head to Paris you will find them in markets and in local florists, and if you can’t get to Paris you can enjoy their full beauty through the work of flower photographer and author Georgianna Lane on her site A Parisian Moment.

Peonies - Georgianna Lane (2)
Peonies at a French Florist – image courtesy of photographer Georgianna Lane

Delicate yet bold, they are the most beautiful flower to behold.

Merci to Georgianna Lane, Author and Parisian photographer and Katrina Lawrence of Paris for Dreamers for her inspiration.