One of the best exhibitions you can now attend in London is being held at the Royal Academy of Arts looks at how much gardens have influenced painters from late XIX century to XX century. The main reason to go is because you can observe how gardens were depicted not only by Monet but also by several of his contemporaries. If you wish to enjoy some of the most emblematic and wonderful paintings where the beauty of those landscapes make you think it’s Spring outside the gallery don’t give it a second thought: the magnificence of its colours will leave you breathless.
Monet cultivated gardens throughout his entire life and he himself said that it was thanks to flowers that he became a painter, finding inner peace and inspiration in his contemplation of them. In the late XIX century, people became more and more interested in horticultural and gardening affairs. Artists also became interested, as new species of plants and flowers were imported from Asia and America and painters were very keen to paint them to experiment and try new colors and textures. Even though Monet is known as the professional in this type of subject the exhibition also features the works of many of his contemporaries and we can see the influence nature had on them.
The exhibition is structured in themed rooms which focus on the development of the Impressionist painters not only in Europe but also in America. All seven rooms feature a wide selection of paintings.
The exhibition starts in the room Impressionists Gardens. In an era of industrialisation, artists treated their gardens as outdoor studios and, even, as works of art. In this room we can find Lady in the garden by Claude Monet, where we see a lady, not facing the public but, looking at the garden where a beautiful rosebush is in bloom. Two of Monet’s contemporaries, Camille Pisarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, had very different techniques in approaching painting gardens. Pisarro preferred more classical and conventional approaches to nature, while Renoir’s gardens were wild and free. Here, Renoir’s painting, Claude Monet painting in his garden, and Monet’s depiction of the same situation in The artist’s garden in Argenteuil are in the same room. Pissarro’s piece Jeanne Pissarro, called Minette, sitting in the Garden is a clear example of how the artist knew how to captivate people’s thoughts and feelings in just a single work. In Manet’s Young women among the flowers we find a theme we will see in the rest of the exhibition: how the delicacy of a flower was linked to women’s purity, femininity and beauty.
The second room, International Gardens, is where we can see how this interest in gardening expanded internationally. Global painters who were interested in the subject travelled all around the world to find inspiration and to see new gardens, different plants, different colours and search for sources of inspiration. In Johan Krouthén’s View of a garden we can see a family spending a day out, the beauty of the details makes you stop, as the lights, the shadows and its realism make you think for a second that it’s a photograph. In this room we also have several paintings from more international artists: Max Liebermann, Childe Hassam, Alfred Parsons and Henrile Sidaner are among those whose art reflected their passion for nature, flowers and gardening but, perhaps one of the central pieces in this room, is Louis Comfort Tiffany by the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla. Here we see Tiffany, an artist and a painter famous for working with glass in a style that was later known as Art Nouveau, relaxing in his mansion’s garden, in Long Island, which had sumptuous gardens and beautiful views.
In Early Years at Giverny, we can find some of Monet’s most famous works, the lilies collection. In 1883 Monet moved to a house in Giverny, a village on the northwest of Paris, and a few years later, after he bought the property, he redesign the garden’s completely. He took inspiration from a water lily garden he had seen at the Paris Universal Exhibition, but also from the Japanese gardens he admired and this is especially visible on his bridges, ponds and flowers. Water lilies, Water pond with lilies and White water lilies are among several paintings at this exhibition that are famous worldwide and recognisable for their colours and special sensitivity. It’s here, then, when the exhibition turns in to something like “Oz”, you feel like you move from a black and white world, to one of a full palette of colours. It is quite a feast for the senses.
Another room, named Avant-Gardens, is where we see how painters such as Van Gogh found endless inspiration in nature and we can enjoy ourselves looking at paintings by Paul Klee, Henri Matisse and Kandinsky. Van Gogh’s fascination with nature and landscapes is well known and here we can admire an example of his art, Daubigny’s Garden. Van Gogh admired the painter Charles – François Daubigny throughout his life and painted his garden three times, these paintings are now on display in different museums around the world. In Gustav Klimt’s Cottage Garden, we can appreciate the garden as if it was full of jewels instead of flowers.
In Gardens of Reverie we can see how painters were trying to find a paradise in gardens, as people were longing for a better world outside of the industrialisation of cities. Two of the painters you can see in this room are Maurice Denis and Pierre Bonnard. Both of them were great admirers and followers of Monet and painted gardens as a bucolic and idyllic place to be. In Denis’ case, his paintings of gardens are greatly influenced by Catholicism and we can see his taste for simplicity and his interest on depicting women’s figures, particularly mother and child. Bonnard, on the other hand, is well known for his intense use of colors and his depiction of gardens full of family members and friends. We can also see Édouard Vuillard’s work in this room. In Vuillard’s gardens, as with the rest of his paintings, everything is executed in a gentle and soft way, full of patterns and geometrical figures.
Finally in the room Monet’s Final Years we can see how the painter spent the last years of his life. At this stage of his life, Monet was deeply depressed: his second wife, Alice, was dead and he was losing his vision due to cataracts. Despite all this – and when he started to recover his vision – he carried on painting large nature paintings. As the first World War started, Monet started to paint weeping willows in homage to the French soldiers who died in the battlefield. He never gave up painting, as he said “As for myself, I’m staying here regardless, and if those savages insist on killing me, they’ll have to do it in the midst of my paintings, before my life’s work.”
This exhibition will captivate both your eyes and your mind from the very first second you walk into it. You shouldn’t miss the chance to visit it and delight yourself in these stunning paintings.
Lucía Vázquez Bonome
Lucia Vázquez Bonome lives and works in London. She holds a degree in Advertising and an MA in Creative Advertising, both issued in Spain. She has undertaken two screenwriting courses at Morley College in London. While studying advertising, she discovered her passion for writing which translated into her professional life: since 2014 she has written articles for the website ‘The State of the Arts’ where she write reviews on theatre plays, movies, books, art galleries and interviewa artists belonging to different artistic fields. Her love for storytelling led her to compile a collection of short stories into a children’s book entitled “Un Verano Mágico”(A magical summer) which was published in Spain and has been translated to English.
Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse is open until the 20th of April at The Royal Academy of Arts.