REVIEW: Chihuly's Reflections on Nature at Kew Gardens

By Martin Macdonald

Reflections on Nature features exceptional glass pieces – 32 installations – by renowned American glass artist Dale Chihuly (b. 1941, Tacoma, Washington, USA). Covering 50 years of artistic production, Chihuly’s glass sculptures are set against the fascinating backdrop of Kew Gardens, the world’s largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collection.

As beauty can often be mesmeric, it’s good to discover that Reflections on Nature isn’t a purely aesthetic affair. The fact is that remaining aware of one's surroundings makes the exhibition not only bloomin’ beautiful but also thoroughly engaging. Chihuly’s artworks constantly connect with nature, both reflecting and enhancing the landscape.

The icy beauty of Sapphire Star greets visitors entering Kew’s Victoria Gate. Sunshine bounces off the large orb assembled from individually blown forms. The work's blue core and translucent, almost clear tips are set atop a steel plinth. This ‘explosion’ of colour is reminiscent of a small globe thistle, and like the colourful pom-pom flower, the piece is perfectly in sync with the well-manicured grounds.

Sapphire Star

Niijima Floats, a large grouping of colourful spheres, is quite near the Great Pagoda, precisely at the Japanese Gateway, the charming gardens leading up to the Gate of Nishi Hongan-ji (Western Temple of the Original Vow). Ironically, unlike previous iterations of the installation which is inspired by the volcanic Japanese island of Niijima, this one is not floating on water, but stands on gravel, with water-like ripples drawn onto the ground.

While the work's magnificent colours and lava bubble forms enhance the delicate Japanese landscape, they also make it a little too Instagrammable as evidenced in the large number of people taking selfies. Yet, if you try hard enough, you can still be transported to another, more tranquil world.

Niijima Floats

Moving indoors, Temperate House, the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse provides the perfect setting for a range of fine pieces. All but one are installed on the ground itself, side-by-side the glorious foliage. The standout piece, however, is Temperate House Persians, a new work specially commissioned for the exhibition. A twisted chandelier, resplendent with shades of blue, turquoise, yellow, green and clear glass, is suspended 19 metres from the ground. 

Temperate House Persians suspended from the ceiling

It's somewhat similar to the Rotunda Chandelier at the V&A Museum but importantly, it's in dialogue with the glasshouse itself, nature within and outside the structure, and the skies above. Whereas the V&A piece is somewhat tacky, context makes the Kew chandelier so much more appealing in every possible way.

Further afield, Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower, a monumental sculpture comprising 1,882 separate elements, stands several metres high. Like a colourful giant conifer, this eye-catching piece, adds cheerfulness to the otherwise monotone green surrounds.

Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower

Another highlight is the Ethereal White Persian Pond installed in the very hot and humid Waterlilly House. Taking centre stage are delightful water lilies of various colours. Chihuly’s own unusually shaped stripey white and clear glass objects enhance the space, turning it into a painterly environment, a magical pond in which glass art, nature and the visitors themselves are reflected in the dark waters. 

Ethereal White Persian Pond


Having started the Reflections on Nature exhibition with the beautiful coldness of Sapphire Star, it's lovely to end the show on a warm note, with the gnarly red, orange and yellow Summer Sun. Comprised of 1,483 pieces, this voluminous sculpture overlooks a lake and Palm House. Like Chihuly’s The Sun, on display in the centre of Berkeley Square in 2014, the piece is bound to brighten any day, come rain or shine.

Reflections on Nature is open until 27 October 2019.

Summer Sun


Neodymium Reeds and Turquoise Marlins

Green Hornets and Gold Waterdrops

Photography by ArtworldNow