Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

Whatever you’re doing, stop it, drop it, and get down to the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) in London immediately (if you can). You may be wondering where spring has got to, well I tell you now, it’s being held at the RA’s exhibition Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.

What’s it all about?

Painting the Modern Garden explores the interest that artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had in capturing the garden environment and its flora and fauna.

This penchant for immortalising the garden on canvas coincided with the horticultural boom of the industrialised 19th century; gardening stopped being the preserve of the wealthy elite, became accessible to a wider section of society, and began to resemble the enjoyable pastime we know today.

The exhibition’s vanguard is Monet, who was such a garden aficionado that when interviewed after his move to Giverny, the journalist noted Monet was more interested in seed calendars than debates on aestheticism. But it was Monet’s lifelong interest in gardens which provided him an endless supply of artistic inspiration.

And as this exhibition highlights, so too for many of his contemporaries who captured the ‘modern garden’ magnificently.

Is it worth the ticket price?:

Yes, absolutely, go once, go twice, even three times and you won’t begrudge the fee. This exhibition is pure colour and delight.

Superbly curated, each room takes you through the social and cultural evolution of the garden and the response by various artistic movements.

In a room dedicated to paintings of Gardens of Silence, Henri Le Sidaner captures that magic quality of dusk with The Steps, Gerberoy (1902). Meanwhile in Avant-Gardens, colour and texture is the order of the day for Gustav Klimt’s Cottage Garden (1905-1907). Whilst in International Gardens, Max Liebermann presents his as a living artwork, artistic challenge and extension to his home.

The overarching themes of horticultural and artistic developments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be visualised throughout the exhibition – from the opening painting of Monet’s somewhat formulaic The Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil (1873), to his large abstract Water Lilies (Agapanthus) (1915-26) in all its softly calming hues.

This exhibition is an aesthetic and atmospheric delight which envelopes you, leaving the mayhem of the city far behind.

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Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse runs until 20 April at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

It’s advised to purchased tickets in advance.