Created by
Burns, Pauline Powell, American, 1872 - 1912
ca. 1890
oil paint on cardboard
H x W (unframed ): 10 3/4 × 12 3/8 in. (27.3 × 31.4 cm)
H x W x D (framed ): 12 3/8 × 16 5/8 × 1 in. (31.4 × 42.2 × 2.5 cm)
At first glance, Pauline Powell Burns’s Violets appears to be a simple painting of fresh-cut flowers. During the Victorian era (1837–1901), however, flowers were assigned a wide range of meanings so that personal feelings and emotions could be expressed without having to say them aloud. The blue violet symbolized watchfulness, faithfulness, and love. Still lifes, particularly of flowers, were popular among 19th-century women artists, and Burns received notable recognition for her talent in this genre.
Born into a middle-class family, Burns was part of a small and vibrant African American cultural and religious community in Oakland, California. In addition to her accomplishments as a visual artist, she was a talented pianist, featured in numerous newspaper articles highlighting her concert appearances.
This oil painting depicts a cluster of violets against a light gray surface and background. The violets are done is deep navy blues and purples, the blossoms lying in a jumbled heap amidst strands of greenery and a few green leaves. The pile of flowers lies on an off-white surface that gradually fades to grey shadows at the right most edge of the painting.
Place made
Oakland, Alameda County, California, United States, North and Central America
Visual Arts
oil paintings
still lifes
Credit Line
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Object number
Restrictions & Rights
Public Domain
Proper usage is the responsibility of the user.

Cataloging is an ongoing process and we may update this record as we conduct additional research and review. If you have more information about this object, please contact us at

Share this page