Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, Royal Academy to 20 April

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

A new Royal Academy exhibition displays paintings by artists of inspiration found in gardens, Claude Monet being preeminent among them and representing a quarter of the gallery space. Monet was not only a masterful painter but also a horticulturalist who regarded his “garden [as his] most beautiful masterpiece” and nature as “the source of [his] inspiration”. He once said: “I am good at only two things, and those are gardening and painting” and that he owed “having become a painter to flowers”.

“Using the work of Monet as a starting point, this landmark exhibition examines the role gardens played in the evolution of art from the early 1860s through to the 1920s.” – Royal Academy

Monet was riddled with artist’s anxieties, and a lack of self-belief and sales, at times, but this was compensated for by his overwhelming desire and obsessive drive to paint what he saw and experienced.

“Every day I discover even more beautiful things. It is intoxicating me, and I want to paint it all – my head is bursting…” – Monet

Featured Artists

Daubigny’s Garden in Auvers, Van Gogh, 1890
Daubigny’s Garden in Auvers, Van Gogh, 1890

Apart from Claude Monet, the exhibition features works by Frédéric Bazille, Pierre Bonnard, Gustave Caillebotte, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Childe Hassam, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt, Max Liebermann, Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Berthe Morisot, Emil Nolde, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Santiago Rusiňol, John Singer Sargent, Joaquín Sorolla, James-Jacques Tissot, Vincent van Gogh and Edouard Vuillard. Two women and just one Englishman, aren’t we a nation of gardeners?

Gardeners among the Artists

Among the artists, and in addition to Monet himself, Bonnard, Caillebotte, Cézanne, Pissarro, and Renoir, stand out as gardeners in addition to being painters. Pissarro was critiqued by contemporaries as an “Impressionist market gardener specialising in cabbages” whilst Monet has been described as “the artist-gardener par excellence” by Ann Dumas, co-curator of the RA’s show.

Monet Painting in His Garden

Monet painting in his garden at Argenteuil, Renoir, 1873
Monet painting in his garden at Argenteuil, Renoir, 1873

Over 120 paintings feature from across Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Avant-Garde periods including Monet’s monumental Agapanthus Triptych, and Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil from 1873, painted by Monet’s friend and colleague since art school, Renoir, on a visit.

In a reminiscence Monet said that Manet whilst painting Monet’s family was joined by Renoir doing likewise. After a while, Manet took Monet aside and whispered to him:

“You’re on very good terms with Renoir and take an interest in his future – do advise him to give up painting! You can see for yourself that it’s not his metier at all.” – Manet to Monet about Renoir!

Monet Painting in His Garden shows it was not unknown for artists to paint artists painting. This is something Paint Out‘s events have borne witness to with well over a dozen paintings featuring artists in the frame.

Plein Air Paint Out

Artist Karen Adams - Plantation Gardens 10x12 Oil on Board at Paint Out Norwich 2015 photo by Mark Ivan Benfield
Artist Karen Adams – Plantation Gardens, SOLD 10×12 Oil on Board at Paint Out Norwich 2015

Paint Out‘s previous plein air competitions in Norwich and Wells-next-the-Sea have focused on urban and seafront landscapes but it didn’t stop some artists seeking out gardens as inspirations.

The mass ‘paint out’ on Norfolk’s historic Mousehold Heath also gave artists the opportunity to paint the cityscape of Norwich or the heath itself-  filled with trees, bushes, dogs, children playing, and 100 artists painting.

To be involved in Paint Out‘s 2016 events, artists can register their interest here.

Royal Academy Exhibition Media Reviews

The Daily Telegraph writes that:

“the middle class garden in the 19th century did not just change the well-being of the population of Europe, but also the history of art as we know it. [the] exhibition at the Royal Academy [reveals] how the creation of the ordinary back gardens so prevalent today inspired a new generation of artists from Monet to Matisse.”

The Guardian said:

“This exhibition of psychedelic modernist pastoral art is a ravishing joy and takes Monet out of the chocolate box, revealing one of art’s great humanists.”

And in another Guardian review:

“Monet’s visions of the gardens he created at Argenteuil, Vétheuil and Giverny…are planted at intervals all the way through the show until they build to a grand finale at the end – a spectacular vision of water lilies, and of modern art.”

For those who’ve seen enough Monet, The Times says don’t be deterred:

“It’s the giddying profusion of colour that will first strike you. The visitor is led along light-dappled pathways into an all but fantastical chromatic world. Here are explosions of dahlias, there cascades of roses; here are banks of chrysanthemums, there the blaze of sunflowers. This show offers a sensory experience as much as an intellectual thesis.” – Rachel Campbell-Johnston

It is interesting to see how art is more appreciated, often many years after its initial creation, as the Independent review points out:

“Indeed, even the term impressionism was coined as a negative phrase by the then contemporary critic Louis Leroy, who declared that Monet’s painting was, at most, a sketch, and could hardly be termed a finished work.”

Not all the paintings concentrate on flowers, some emphasise the people in them, or even a pair of old boots:

“‘Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots’ is a painting by Sir William Nicholson. It was a gift for the architect Edwin Lutyens who worked closely with Gertrude Jekyll, the gardener. It’s a simple yet evocative painting of her boots and the only painting in the exhibition that proves keeping a garden takes hard work and dedication [just like painting!]. The boots are tired and made of leather, the left boot is losing a sole, and the right has a gaping hole where the sole has lost its grip on the leather completely.”

Exhibition Details

The exhibition runs 30 January – 20 April 2016 and is open Saturday – Thursday 10am – 6pm and late night Fridays till 10pm. Tickets are £16 plus optional donation and the Royal Academy address is: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BDs’

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: