It felt like Monet’s water lilies took my stare and enclosed it tightly in their gentle, pink, waxy clutches.
Although it was Renoir who first caught my eye with his tender painting of Monet at work on a canvas in his garden.
Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse exhibition at the Royal Academy is the best antidote to our January’s overwhelming sense of grey, and I was lucky enough to attend the press day of the show.
Beautiful gardens immortalised on canvas are ready for us to visit and view.
Your gaze will be lovingly stretched and elongated, rhizomatic, like the roots of Edvard Munch’s apple tree in Apple Tree in the Garden…
Or it will dance like the scattered seeds from German expressionist Emil Nolde’s Large Poppies…
Carried in the breeze of Max Liebermann’s Flower Terrace in the Garden, Wannsee, whose garden it looks like we’re viewing from a passing train.
Your eyes will scale the willow branches, glissando-like, that grace the foreground of Monet’s later works at Giverny.
So still for us, but surely swaying on the water.
Our eyes move frantically all over Monet’s fiery Nymphean Japanese Bridge, as though we are trying to do the impossible and track the direction of the paintbrush.
And follow the soothing motion of the bobbing lily pads spinning on the surface of the water of Corner of the Water Lily Pond.
It’s not just our eyes that move, or plants or flowers; people are moving too.
In Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil we want to join Monet’s sons Michel and Jean as they stand, poised, on the steps of the garden, surrounded by sunflowers reaching new heights, almost obliterating the house behind.
In Pissarro’s The Artist’s Garden at Ergany we see a woman bent over and hard at work in the garden.
While Pierre Bonnard’s The Family in the Garden celebrates the sociable space and playtime fun that the garden offers.
Although the garden is also a place for reflection and contemplation. Perhaps no one is more relaxed than Bonnard’s subject in Resting in the Garden. It’s huge; almost as though we’re looking out through a window at the woman languishing on her chair.
Another beautifully framed scene to behold from a different window (and looking out onto a different country) is Santiago Rusiñol’s painting of the view from the Garden of the Principe in Aranjuez, a royal palace near Madrid. Rusiñol is one of many Spanish and Catalan artists featured in the exhibition.
In one of my favourite paintings (Monet’s Garden at Giverny) a woman is pausing to admire the blooming flowers that surround her.
In 1883 Monet moved with his family to a large, rented house at Giverny, a village to the northwest of Paris. After purchasing the property in 1890, Monet began to redesign the gardens, laying out gravel paths and planting flowers that would bloom in a succession of ever-changing harmonies. Inspired by a water-lily garden that he had seen at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1889, Monet purchased an adjacent property in Giverny in 1893 and diverted water from a nearby stream to create a pond.
Although this was not a straightforward process.
Above is a letter from Monet to the Prefect of the Eure appealing against his opposition to divert water from the River Epte to feed his water garden. Monet’s garden at Giverny is world-famous but many do not know about the remarkable depth of his botanical knowledge, and you can see his ambitious plans for his garden in the exhibition.
It’s an unutterably sublime exhibition. Gardens invite you to look, pause and absorb as you walk through. Painting the Modern Garden does exactly the same. An absolute must see.
Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse is open to the public at the Royal Academy from January 30 – April 20 2016. More information can be found on the RA website.