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Exhibition - Painting the Modern Garden Posted on 6 Apr 14:00

'I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers'. Claude Monet, 1927.

Monet's enduring popularity means we're so used to seeing his paintings, particularly the water-lilies, reproduced on all manner of items, that it's easy to overlook just how magnificent they are in reality.  This exhibition is simply stunning, and there is still time to go and see it! (It's on at the Royal Academy, London, until April 20th).  While the primary focus is Monet, who's absolute love of nature is beautifully demonstrated and discussed,  it's a very large exhibition with so many extraordinary paintings by numerous artists, including Cézanne, Klimt and Matisse.

Monet Crysanthemums Painting

Claude Monet, Crysanthemums (crop), 1897

The above painting is one of my favourite examples of Monet's exquisite use of colour; if you imagine it without just one of any of his chosen hues it wouldn't be nearly as effective.  The exhibition explains that he took inspiration for these extreme close-ups from Japanese paintings and prints, citing Katsushika Hokusai (below Flowers, Peonies and Butterfiles, 1830s), as an example.  These close-ups paved the way for his Grandes Décorations of later years; huge paintings of his water-lily garden in which the interplay between light, colour and atmosphere are of much greater importance than depiction of the forms.

Katsushika Hokusai Flowers Peonies and Butterfly

Monet Water Lilies Grandes Décorations painting from Painting the Modern Garden Exhibition

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1916-1926

These paintings took the impressionists' 'art based on sensation' (a phrase coined by Camille Pissarro) to a new level, and there is something deeply peaceful and contemplative about experiencing them in all their expansive glory - it is the first time that the three enormous Water Lilies, painted as a triptych between 1915 and 1926, have been exhibited together in Europe.  I later discovered that Monet's Water Lilies series included 250 paintings, such was his affinity with this part of his garden; he did claim that the garden at Giverny was 'my most beautiful work of art', after all.

Monet Water lilies painting from Painting the Modern Garden exhibition

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914-1915

The exhibition also provides a really interesting background to how gardening became the favoured pass-time we know it as today, something I had never considered, due to the 'Great Horticultural Movement', which coincided with the growth of the middle classes and advances in science and technology.  In 1898, the President of the Society of American Florists is quoted as saying:

Show me one who cultivates flowers...and I will show you a home in which love prevails...

It was also at this time that gardens as public attractions became fashionable, a legacy to the Movement I am personally very happy about!  I've since read more about the garden at Giverny as it is today and it's firmly on my must-visit list now.  The intention of the gardeners there is to engender in the visitor the same emotions they might feel on viewing a Monet painting, by planting to maximise the impact of light, colour and atmosphere - it sounds wonderful.

Santiago Rusinol - Hydrangeas on a Garden Path

Santiago Rusiñol, Hydrangeas on a Garden Path, 1929

It's always lovely to discover new artists at an exhibition and Santiago Rusiñol is one I was previously not aware of but his work stood out, for me personally.  The way he captures sunlight in his garden paintings evokes how it feels to be outdoors, surrounded by nature, on a perfect sunny morning or evening, when the light makes everything look a little magical; something I really relate to as that is how I would spend much of my time if I could!

Santiago Rusiñol Green Wall, Sa Coma painting

Santiago Rusiñol, Green Wall, Sa Coma, 1904

Painting The Modern Garden takes artists' fascination with gardens through to the early days of Modernism and the avante-garde with works from Matisse, Macke, Dufy and Kandinsky, amongst others.  Here are the beginnings of abstraction, and there are some striking examples from artists often better know for different subjects and styles.

August Macke and Henri Matisse garden paintings from Painting the Modern Garden exhibition

August Macke, Garden Path, 1912 and Henri Matisse, Acunthus (Moroccan Landscape), 1912

I can't recommend this exhibition enough, it's a beautiful reminder to take the time to appreciate the spectacle of the natural world and, thereby, allow ourselves to be moved by it, as the artists exhibited so clearly were.

I was happy to see one of my own little fascinations as an illustrator - deckchairs (it's something about the shape and the association with relaxation) - included in a painting by P.S. Krøyer, and I'm looking forward to embracing the modern garden in my own way as the years go by.

P.S. Krøyer - Roses painting from Painting the modern Garden exhibition

P.S. Krøyer, Roses (Marie Krøyer Seated in a Deckchair in the Garden by Mrs Brenden's House), 1893