EXHIBITIONS: Painting the Modern Garden – Monet to Matisse


Royal Academy

February 2016

I know what artists mean when they talk about avoiding the blockbusters! The Royal Academy was heaving with people as expected and it was only possible in many cases to just catch a glimpse of the paintings on the wall. But as long as you kept a cool head this didn’t stop the enjoyment of this incredible exhibition.

Gardens have been a passion of mine for many years and throughout the course I’ve used our own garden as the starting point for my work. It was therefore inspiring to have the opportunity of seeing many artists who create their own gardens and find there an infinite source of inspiration for painting. In the nineteenth century there was a great horticultural movement when gardening as a modern pursuit began and this exhibition focused on how painting flourished in response to this. Monet of course is the chief exponent of this development and it was breathtaking to be able to stand in front of the Agapanthus Triptych of the three paintings of Water Lilies. As described in the catalogue,”…eliminating any hint of foreground or sky made the compositions more abstract, thereby transforming the water garden into swirling fields of coloured light, punctuated by water lilies assembled into groups of white ovals rising on the left and floating across swathes of violet-blue.”

Claude Monet - section of Agapanthus Trypdich

Claude Monet – section of Agapanthus Triptych

I enjoyed the exhibition very much and it was interesting to be thinking about composition as I walked through the different rooms. I found that I quickly tired of looking at garden views no matter how beautifully painted. It was more interesting to look at the garden painted from different viewpoints, in particular close-up views and quiet, intimate viewpoints. It was a joy to find one of my favourite artists represented (I think the only woman artist there), Berthe Morisot – ‘Woman and Child in a Meadow’ and next to it was a magnificent painting by Edouard Manet, ‘ Young Woman among Flowers’. To be able to see such work is a privilege beyond words.

Berthe Morisot - "Woman and Child in a meadow"

Berthe Morisot – “Woman and Child in a meadow”

Edouard Manet - 'Young Woman among Flowers'

Edouard Manet – ‘Young Woman among Flowers’

However it was the room devoted to Avant-gardens which was the most exciting for me. This took the exhibition into a different level – I could have stayed there all day. I’ve had the opportunity of seeing Emil Nolde’s work on several other occasions and it was pure delight to see a group of his flower paintings here in the exhibition. He appeared to create gardens wherever he moved to…”had a transformative influence on his art.”(Catalogue, page 239) He wrote, “Whenever we returned from the big city…I was soon overcome by an irresistible urge for artistic creation. The flowers in the garden would greet me jubilantly with their pure and beautiful colours.” These paintings featured densely packed, vibrant flowers painted close up – the colours and shapes went far beyond simple images of flowers and you felt to be looking deeply into the artist’s inner feelings about life. What an opportunity to see these!

Emil Nolde - 'Flower Garden (O)' 1922

Emil Nolde – ‘Flower Garden (O)’ 1922

Emil Nolde - 'Flower Garden (M) ' 1922

Emil Nolde – ‘Flower Garden (M) ‘ 1922

I’m finding that the research for the course that I’m doing is having an impact on how I look at paintings. I was thinking about the recent research on artists who create and deny depth and noticing particularly the use of the surface  as paintings become more abstract. This was particularly evident in Monet’s work as I could see a progression through the years. Creating depth seemed to become less and less important to him, yet as the realism and structure faded, the power and impact of the images increased for me.

Claude Monet - 'Chrysanthemums' 1897

Claude Monet – ‘Chrysanthemums’ 1897


About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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