7 February 2016

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse: Royal Academy

It's really all about the Monet, but that's not a criticism. This exhibition focusses upon a particular time, especially in France, when the domestic garden emerged along with the middle classes - in other words, instead of a garden being a functional kitchen plot or a grand extension to palatial estate, people had the time to nurture a garden for pleasure and leisure. In the mid 19th century technology and travel also saw crazes for collecting plants, ferns and water lilies, at astronomical prices.

Gustav Klimt, Flower Garden, 1907

Photography was also entering into the visual consciousness, and so painters had new areas to explore - light and colour, freeing themselves from representation. Many artists put as much creative energy into gardening as painting, finding it a reflexive process, and more, we can see an evolution towards abstraction in this collection from 1840 to 1920.

But it's beauty really which these paintings are about, beauty in flowers, in sunshine and shade. This exhibition bombards with beauty and suggests to the other senses, fragrance, breezes, birdsong and other delights. Actually it's partly an exhibition that makes one wonder what art is for, or what the experience of art can be. Do artists intrigue and seduce through beauty, or go the other way. Why shouldn't art be gorgeous?

Perhaps here we see the garden become the new landscape, planted, managed and nurtured by artists, and then painted, a whole created world within a frame.

Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau the Garden II, 1910

There is a narrative in this exhibition which represents a clear chapter in the history of art. It begins and ends with Monet, although there are plenty of other star paintings and new discoveries along the way. Such an exhibition is bound to be the requisite blockbuster - 35,000 tickets have already be sold which means that views of the paintings are often obscured by other viewers. Most of these Impressionist-type paintings require some distance for the best effect and focus, and sadly, especially in the case of the wonderful, epic, awesome, ambitious Monet triptych which is the highlight, it is just not possible to stand back far enough from these works to see them properly.

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse
Royal Academy
30th January - 20th April 2016 



7th February 2016

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