Jean-Michel Othoniel


“The new pavilion, with its rich wood walls and floors and marvellous natural lighting, will make a stunning showcase for The Peony Knot. Not only will the work be on view for visitors within the Museum, but it will also be visible from outside the Museum’s walls, especially at night, when it will be in the spotlight.” – Jean-Michel Othoniel

Beauty and wonder are inherent in the work of Jean- Michel Othoniel, whose favourite material is blown glass. This French artist is renowned for his monumental and gripping works, with a formal approach that reconciles art and craft. The Peony Knot (2015), recently acquired, has been given pride of place in the Event Stairway of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace, which feature the collections of International art and the Michel de la Chenelière Atelier for Education and Art Therapy. This signal work incarnates the vocation of the new pavilion: “Floating above the Event Stairway, this Peony – the very word comes from Paeon, the Greek god of healing – evokes joy and wonder, which are perfect reflections of our programme,” explained Nathalie Bondil.

Since the beginning of his career, Othoniel has shown an inclination for the metamorphosis of materials – light, sulfur, lead, wax and obsidian – before turning to blown glass in 1993. With his protean artistic output – choreography, drawing, writing, installation, performance, photography and sculpture – the artist has become renowned for his highly poetic imagination.

Othoniel has a contemporary approach to blown glass. He takes an interest in its different states – liquid and solid (reminiscent of the transmutation of materials through alchemical processes) – as well as its fragility. The transformation of this material by fire obliges the artist to delegate this creative gesture to the glassblower and play the role of orchestra conductor. Beads of blown and coloured glass strung on stainless-steel structures have become his signature. His works take various forms, including giant necklaces hung from trees in the late 1990s, the installation Le Kiosque des Noctambules (2000) at the entrance to the Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre metro station, and more recently, Les Belles Danses (2015), a permanent installation of sculpture-fountains at the Château de Versailles.

Flowers and their hidden meaning have been recurrent themes in this artist’s work since his early days, when he began including plants after reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses and seeing Joseph Beuys’s drawings of dried flowers, Ombelico di Venere Cotyledon Umbilicus Veneris (1985). During an artist residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in the summer of 2011, Othoniel accessed the museum’s collections, where gardens and flowers are recurrent themes not only in painting, but also in tapestry, ironwork, furniture and architectural elements…

The peony and its symbolism stand out across history and different cultures. “In China, the peony was considered the queen of flowers, evoking nobility, opulence and honour, and incarnating love. Depicted in groups of three, the peony announces spring. It has been the image of prosperity and happiness since the Tang dynasty (618-906). Under the Song dynasty (960-1279), it was called ‘the flower of wealth and prestige,’ and its image was reproduced on many objects. In the West, it is the rose of Pentecost. During the Middle Ages, it was considered to have particularly strong curative powers, especially to cure mental illness and ward off curses,” the artist explained. The peony inspired him to create this monumental work, The Peony Knot,(1) which was first shown in 2015 in the exhibition Jean-Michel Othoniel: Secret Flower Sculptures at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

The Peony Knot is a 3-metre-wide, 500-kilogram hanging sculpture, composed of 212 mirrored blown-glass beads in amber, orange, plum, pink and red, strung on stainless-steel wires. The work evokes a flower in bloom. It is seductive in its subtle colours and suggestive of a string of pearls in constant movement in space. Its form also suggests the Borromean (2) ring of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, where each ring represents the unconscious of the subject: the real, the symbolic and the imaginary.

The acquisition of this work was made possible through the bequest of Ginette Trépanier and the generosity of all those who participated in the BIJOUX=ART 2016 fundraising event, organized by the Museum’s Volunteer Association.


1. The first title for the work, Peony, the Knot of Shame, reflects the peony’s symbolism as the “rose of the poor” – that of simple, humble people who stay in the shadows, according to the artist. He later changed the English title to The Peony Knot, which matches the French title.
2. In knot theory (mathematics), the interlacing of three circles to form Borromean rings creates an indissociable set whose symbolism has been used down through the ages and across cultures. If any one of the rings is cut or removed, the two others are freed, resulting in two unlinked rings.


The Peony Knot, 2015, Mirrored blown glass, stainless steel
300 x 300 x 200 cm, Photo MMFA Denis Farley
© Jean-Michel Othoniel / SODRAC (2016)