Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

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Claude Monet, 'Lady in the Garden', 1867. Photo © The State Hermitage Museum. Photography: Vladimir Terebenin



Joaquin Sorolla, 'Louis Comfort Tiffany', 1911. Photo © Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York


Pierre Bonnard, 'Resting in the Garden (Sieste au jardin)', 1914. Photo © Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design/The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design / © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015 


Claude Monet, 'Nympheas (Waterlilies)', 1914-15. Photo © Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon


Wassily Kandinsky, 'Murnau The Garden II', 1910. Photo © Merzbacher Kunststiftung


Auguste Renoir, 'Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil', 1873. Photo © Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT


Henri Matisse, 'The Rose Marble Table, Issy-les-Moulineaux, spring-summer', 1917. Photo © 2015. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence / © Succession H. Matisse/ DACS 2015 

For a show that was always going to be a surefire hit, ‘Painting the Modern Garden’ more than delivers in the ways you’d expect. Floral masterpieces by Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Henri Matisse are abundant; there are also endless discoveries to be made, from Henri Le Sidaner’s ‘The Rose Pavilion’ (1936), pink and powdery like your nan’s cheek, to the fiery sunset strangeness of little-known Spaniard Santiago Rusiñol’s ‘Glorieta VII, Aranjuez’ (1919). The Royal Academy has embraced the theme with gusto. Walls are painted the sludgy greens and subdued blues of posh garden sheds. There are park benches to sit on. You half expect a holographic Titchmarsh to appear, offering advice about your hanging baskets.

So, it’s sumptuous and a little silly in parts (and surely the perfect Mother’s Day treat). But, you don’t need to dig too far to find rich seams of history. Because, while this is a blockbuster full of the most beautiful paintings you’ll see all year, it’s also a show about the ways in which the newly-prosperous middle classes were able to cultivate patches of land for themselves, and how, unexpectedly, the rise of modern art was helped by the advent of the mail-order seed catalogue. And by botanical science, which led to new hybrids becoming available – notably the dahlia, which went from being a Mexican sort-of daisy to the spiky Ascot hat adored by the impressionists. The garden is shaped, in life as in art, as a place of solace, escape and innovation. Yet, regardless of their vision, everyone painted flowers. Hardly anyone did veg.

Because all this took place at the very beginning of the modern era, you get to see photographs of the artists in question: there’s Wassily Kandinsky in shorts and shirtsleeves digging in the dirt; Edouard Vuillard is folded awkwardly into a cane chair. These glimpses of character are surprisingly enlightening. There’s even a film snippet of Monet glancing across at his pond then frantically jabbing his brush at a canvas, a cigarette dangling extravagantly from his mouth.

The ultimate synthesis of art and nature, Monet’s garden at Giverny, near Paris, is rightly the main focus of the show. The artist shifted tons of earth and planted swathes of flowers in pursuit of his vision. It’s here he mourned his wife’s death, expressing sorrow in a series of ‘Weeping Willows’. And it’s here, literally within earshot of WWI battlefields, he commenced his epic ‘Water Lilies’ – including the three panels of ‘Water Lilies (Agapanthus)’ (1915-26) reunited for this show. Enveloped by this vast work, by plant life and water breaking down into elemental shards of light and colour, you feel as overwhelmed as Monet surely did. Here is an artist painting what he could control but with his mind and heart trained on what clearly he couldn’t. It’s as soaringly beautiful as it is exquisitely sad. 

By: Martin Coomer


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Painting the modern garden is just a stunning exhibition and it is worth a visit before this ends at the Royal Academy of Arts. I would encourage you to go even if you're like me and have an interest but not really in depth knowledge about art. Standout pieces are from Monet, however expect works from Van Gogh, Matisse, Kandinsky and others too. Seeing a brief film showing the gardens inspiring the paintings was a joy to see. The displays were well thought out, although some more description would have been useful. You can get an audio guide but I didn't go for this at the time although this probably would have helped in hindsight. Visiting on the final weekend it was very busy so this unfortunately was a bit distracting from the overall experience. Perhaps going early morning on a weekday may be more suitable if you wish to fully immerse yourself in the paintings and the whole experience. You will be amazed to see works from all over the world including from some private collections. 


The Royal Academy is one of my favourite galleries in London- the large, high-ceiled rooms offer a fantastic blank canvas, whether the white walls and bright lights of the summer exhibition, or the muted greeny blues and low lighting here. There is a fantastic selection of paintings by Monet, Cezanne, and Matisse, all with a garden theme and grouped according to sub-categories (‘stillness’, for example). The room with Monet’s waterlily paintings are simply magnificent- and the fact that the three partitions have been reunited for this exhibition from different continents makes it all the more impressive. An excellent show and well worth catching before it goes.

A beautiful subject matter, filled with beautiful pictures, in a beautiful building.

I bought tickets for my mum for a Mother's Day, booking far ahead, booking the earliest slot in the day to avoid the crowds. However, I couldn't have got it more wrong. The exhibition was PACKED with people. As we were the first group of the day, sadly it meant everyone "bottle necked" at the entrance to the exhibit, causing everyone to bash and bump. Not quite the gentle serene experience you might hope for. I'd highly recommend picking up an audio guide if you can, as reading the blurb is often tricky due to the volume of people.

Having said that, you can't help but have your breath taken away by Monet's water lily's and the hundreds of other works on show.

Recommended, but be prepared for crowds.

The problem with a big blockbuster exhibition like this is the sheer volume of people in a space at any one time. Seeing this show, which should be an overtly calming experience, given the subject matter, actually becomes quite an anxious experience. You're feet need to find a regular rhythm to dip in and out of crowds ever intent of being at the front of a painting. If you can find a hidden hour to go and see this show then it will be a sublime experience. But if you can't it will be a fight against the ever so polite Englishmen trying to get to the front of the crowd.

The Royal Academy have bought together a large array of paintings from many a master, who hone different painting techniques and styles, hung on richly coloured walls. Some paintings are overly saccharine oozing with pinks, greens and whites. Many paintings depict gardens in the heat of summer which seem to give off a cooling glow. There are world famous Monet lily ponds, sumptuous Bonnard's and staggering Matisse's bursting with colour and life. The gallery has created a space full of photographs of these painters in their suits painting amongst these beautiful gardens. Palette in hand, tie around the neck and cigarette hanging out of an open mouth in most cases. 

This is a beautiful exhibition and one we are very lucky to have on our doorstep. I'd love to go again but when I'd have the gallery to myself. 


Being an RA member I was able to go see this a couple of times without having to worry about the price, some of the pieces are spectacular and others are a little disappointing. The exhibition is always quite busy but if you give yourself a couple hours you can see everything at your pace and do a little people watching too. The paintings really make you wish spring or summer was actually that colourful in real life, whereas the drawings are a little less powerful. The walls are painted to accentuate the art, and the space is used quite well. I always wish the RA was bigger, because the rooms are never enough. 


I really enjoyed this exhibition, it had a large array of really beautiful paintings, rarely seen in the UK. I went on a friday night and I have to admit it was quite full. Each room had a different theme but all paintings were interesting. A tip for even adults is the RA have a little pamphlet for children to help them explore the paintings. If you have limited knowledge of art (which I do) take the childrens pamphlet to help you explore the exhibition too - it had some interesting facts in there that made it easier to understand certain aspects (plus some of the little games were fun for even adults). 


Already the exhibition of the year!

This is an amazingly well curated exhibition with so many brilliant paintings from well-know artists on display. They only mention Monet and Matisse in the title and left out Klimt, Kandinsky, Renoir, Nolde and many more.

You will see some of Monet's most famous paintings, including the water lilies and that Japanese bridge he couldn't stop painting.

The first room was very busy when I got there and I thought it would be on of those exhibitions where you basically have to queue/walk past in line for every single painting, but thankfully it wasn't like that at all. It was busy, but you had enough space and time to look at each painting for as long as you wanted.

The order of the paintings and the themes of the room, the lighting everything is perfect. I think someone with great skill and a great love for these paintings has put this exhibition together.

The only letdown is the fact that the descriptions next to the paintings often add little context or background information and the audio guide costs £4 (which I didn't feel like spending) on top of the over £17 admission fee.

It took me about an hour to get around the exhibition.