Review: Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

My Cabbage Patch

My Cabbage Patch

When I look at this photograph of my garden I always look on it as a painting. It is not an organised  garden or a wild one, but very loose and fluid just like some of the  impressionistic  paintings are. So……….. imagine my  delight when I received an invitation  to attend the exhibition, Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, at the Royal Academy of Arts  (Royal Academy).


The invitation, which came via Ultra Vie (Ultra Vie)  included a conducted tour provided by Ann Dumas, the curator of the exhibition, who provided so much insight into the artists and their relationship with gardens  This was  followed by an introduction to the film (of the same name)  by director John Carney, and a screening of an excerpt of the film.  The film is due to be released on 12th April (general release 19th April)  and all  of you who are art and garden lovers should not miss this.  

2016-03-14 10.13.55

Both the exhibition and the film explore the relationship between some of the world’s greatest artists and their love of gardening and horticulture.  Having recently attained a level 2 Course in Horticulture at the Greenwich Campus of Hadlow College ( and also being a fan of impressionist art I had to go. Was I disappointed? No, of course not, in fact I am thinking of going back to the exhibition again 

The theme of the exhibition portrays paintings of gardens from the 1860’s to the 1920’s.  Many of the artists during this time were passionate about gardening and horticulture and some had their own  gardens, with different designs and themes.

In the second half on the 19th century gardens were looked upon as a relief from industrialisation. A space where people could reflect and enjoy nature and gave artists the opportunity to explore  light and colour. Until then vegetable gardens, or kitchen gardens,  had been the norm  but gardening for leisure became available as a pursuit for the middle classes.  Horticultural catalogues became available and floral displays became a major attraction. This culminated in the garden as we know it today.


Claude Monet, the star of the exhibition, had wonderful gardens at his home in Giverney, Normandy,  which were the subject of many of his paintings. The garden at the front of his house (Clos Normand)was  not wild but  controlled by beds and paths  but still verymonet lilies fluid. However  the garden at the back with the water-lily pond has an Asian theme. 

In contrast,  Pierre Bonnard who had a house at Vernonnet, about 3 miles from Monet, was not a serious horticulturist like Monet  and was not interested in individual plants.  His garden was very wild in nature and his paintings  focused on  man in harmony with nature.


bonnard resting in garden

Pierre Bonnard – Resting in the Garden – Copy

The exhibition houses  over 250 works of art in themed rooms: Impressionist Gardens; International Gardens; Gardens of Silence; Avant-Gardens; and Gardens of Reverie.

Joaquin Sorolla, Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1911 Oil on canvas, 150 x 225.5 cm On loan from the Hispanic Society of America, New York, NY Photo (c) Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York

Joaquin Sorolla, Louis Comfort Tiffany, On loan from the Hispanic Society of America, New York, NY  Photo (c) Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York.Supplied by the Royal Academy of Arts

This exhibition, and film,  will appeal to all gardeners, horticulturists and art lovers alike.


Exhibition: Painting the Modern Garden
Monet to Matisse
Royal Academy of Arts
30 January – 20 April 2016

Film: Painting the Modern Garden
Monet to Matisse
General release from 19th April 2016










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