Painting the Modern Garden – The Royal Academy


Painting the Modern Garden
Monet to Matisse – The Royal Academy

Painting the Modern Garden - Monet to Matisse at The Royal Academy

Painting the Modern Garden – Monet to Matisse at The Royal Academy

After a couple of hours in Tate Britain at the Frank Auerbach exhibition and stomping by foot all the way over to The Royal Academy, I have to admit my feet, legs and eyes were somewhat fried! However, when in London I have to make the most of it.

My heart fell when I walked through the doors – it was packed full and trying to get to the paintings was a bit of a scrum! I’m usually so behind with these things that the initial furore is normally over – as per the Frank Auerbach. The first display was mainly Monet and I made a tactical decision to plough on as I had seen many of his garden paintings at another exhibition (Monet’s Garden – Kunsthaus, Zurich). This turned out to be a smart move, most people seemed only interested in Monet.

I was quite surprised at the number and variety of artists included here – gardening and gardens are obviously a favourite of painters.  Especially the impressionists seemed to see it as another way of painting with plants but not exclusively.

There were paintings by many artists I have researched and discovered through the Practice of Painting Course, although they were more known for other subjects, such as:

  • Pierre Bonnard – researched as part of the still life section. Having said that there were still elements of still life in a few paintings, particularly the tea-table. He always seems to achieve a serene and narrative image.
  • Edvard Munch – Jealously in the Garden showing figures in a narrative, although the main character does have the haunting look reminiscent of The Scream, also shown was Apple Tree in the Garden which is a more mellow theme with some vibrant colour.
  • Paul Cezanne – The Pond at the Jas de Bouffan had a different feel to a lot of his paintings, it seemed more solid somehow.
  • Raoul Dufy – I had been aware of his seaside views through hotel windows and doors, here I particularly liked The Little Palm Tree which was a charming painting full of atmosphere and light. In contrast was his The Abandoned Garden which was quite dark in mood and colour with strong directional marks making up solid objects and the sky.
  • Emil Nolde – I was so excited to discover several of his paintings as I had only seen his work on-line when researching Abstract Expressionists. These were expressive, however, I wouldn’t call them abstract. The colours were as vibrant and striking as I’d previously seen. I don’t think there was one I didn’t like but, in particular I was drawn to Red Flowers, Flower Garden and Peonies and Irises.
  • Wassily Kandinsky – More abstract expressionism with Marnau Garden I & II. These were more as I expected although they were discernible as gardens.

John Singer Sargent featured well, one of my favourite representational artists. Two of my favourites were oil studies in the garden – Garden Study with Lucia and Kate Millet and Garden Study of the Vickers Children.

Some paintings that I really enjoyed were by artists I wasn’t familiar with prior to the exhibition:

  • Joaquin Sorolla – several paintings were by this artist although I particularly liked the serene mood and dappled light of Garden of the Sorolla House.
  • Henri Le Sidaner – the paintings by this artist were quite different in style and had a soft-focus effect that invoked an ethereal mood. The style worked beautifully in the soft light of a snowy garden with the gentle glow of lights from the cottage windows of the painting The Steps, Gerberoy. Interestingly, where this was rendered in pastel, a very similar effect was created in the oil painting The Table in the White Garden, Gerberoy.
  • Santiago Rusinol – this artist’s paintings warranted a room of their own with subdued lighting. Whereas these were very realistic and skilfully draughted images, they were stunning in their light effects. The handling of light and dark made the sunlight out of the shadows glow with warmth, using bright hot colours in contrast to the cooler, shadowy areas took my breath away. Glorieta VII, Aranjuez and Gardens of Montforte are two to note.

There were so many more painters represented here that I would be re-writing the catalogue to mention – I wholeheartedly recommend this exhibition as there really is something for everybody.

Obviously, Monet featured large in the exhibition and it was not my intention to dismiss his importance or brilliance in the beginning of this report. However, I have to say I am, nowadays, drawn to his later, more expressive works such as the Weeping Willow, Nympheas, Japanese Bridge 1918-26 and The Japanese Bridge 1923-25. These brilliant colours, atmosphere and brush marks radiate off of the canvas and captured my attention for some time, they evoked a strong emotional reaction that I am glad was covered by the low lighting! Of course, we had to end with one of the epic Water Lilly paintings taking up an entire wall – Monet deserved to have the last word!