Fleur Cowles’ paintings feature colorful depictions of flowers and animals in daydreamlike scenes. I know of Fleur Cowles from three of my favorite childhood books: Lion and Blue, The Love of Tiger Flower, and To Be a Unicorn. Her illustrations go beautifully with Robert Vavra’s poetic stories.
I have always wondered what inspired Fleur to paint the way she did (she passed away in 2009 at the age of 101) and what motivated her to generate so much work even though she didn’t need to make a living with her art. Fleur was wealthy by marriage and worked in advertising and publishing all while being a well-known socialite — associating with everyone from Salvador Dali to Cary Grant.
Recently I came across a short video interview done by the Harry Ransom Center on Fleur’s views on being an artist that I hoped would answer some of my questions. It didn’t touch on my questions, but it did offer a peak into Fleur’s thought process. In the interview, Fleur explained that her artistic process was simple. She would sit down in front of a blank canvas and start painting — she didn’t make sketches prior to starting or look at anything for inspiration. She was adamant that her paintings do not hold hidden meanings. She created them with only her “longing and desire to give pleasure to other people.”
“I want to create, create, create. I just don’t want to criticize… when it comes out I am not disappointed in what I do because I am creating.”
Although Fleur was a prolific artist, it would be remiss to not mention that she is foremost known as the founder and creative vision behind Flair — a magazine (financed by her husband’s publishing business) covering fashion, décor, travel, art, and literature from 1950-1951. The New York Times called Flair “one of the most extravagant and innovative magazines ever published.” It incorporated sophisticated design elements including: cutouts, fold-outs, pop-ups, removable reproductions of artworks, and different paper types with varying sizes and textures, the expense of which lead to the magazine folding after only a year. I love that Fleur’s artistic vision and connections to the art and literary world is what made this magazine great, and even though it was a financial failure, it is still looked on as a creative success.
Fleur’s paintings and illustrations have been featured in more than 40 art shows around the world, in illustrated books, and licensed for products including tapestries, accessories, and china that she designed for Denby Ltd.
If you are lucky you may be able to snag an old copy of Flair magazine or an original Fleur Cowles painting on Ebay. I, for one, am always on the lookout!