The beauty of the peony flower has long inspired artists in both the eastern and western parts of the world. Prior to the seventeenth century however it was the artists of China and Japan who incorporated images of the peony into their work.
The peony is practically the national flower of China and is often referred to in poetry and literature. Peonies are one of the main motifs of Chinese decorative arts and can be found on porcelains, in woodblock and screen paintings as well as embroidered onto tapestries and clothing.
Both tree peonies and herbaceous peonies were introduced into Japan at the beginning of the eighth century. The Japanese quickly began incorporating images of the peony into their paintings, porcelains and tapestries. The peony was also the subject of many poems and frequently figured in Japanese literature. Today the peony is still a very popular theme in Japanese art.
The peony came to the art of the western world much later and never attained the same level of use as in China and Japan. However when the tree peony and P. lactiflora began to gain popularity in Europe during the end of the 18th and during the 19th century artists began to paint them. Such great artists as Renoir and Fantin-Latour painted peonies. Today peonies are popular subjects for many amateur and professional artists.