The Royal Academy of Arts will be presenting a new exhibition exploring ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’, this major exhibition will examine the role of gardens in the paintings of Claude Monet and his contemporaries. With Monet as the starting point, the exhibition will span the early 1860s to the 1920s, a period of tremendous social change and innovation in the arts, and will include Impressionist, PostImpressionist and Avant-Garde artists of the early twentieth century. It will bring together over 120 works, from public institutions and private collections across Europe and the USA, including 35 paintings by Monet alongside rarely seen masterpieces by Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Gustav Klimt and Wassily Kandinsky.
Claude Monet was arguably the most important painter of gardens in the history of art. He was also an avid horticulturist who cultivated gardens wherever he lived. As early as the 1860s, a symbiotic relationship developed between his activities as a horticulturist and his paintings of gardens, a relationship that can be traced from his early years in Sainte-Adresse to his final months at Giverny. ‘I perhaps owe it to flowers’, he wrote, ‘that I became a painter’. A rich selection of documentary materials including horticultural books and journals, as well as receipts for purchases of plants and excerpts from letters, will be included in the exhibition. Highlights of the exhibition will include a magnificent selection of Monet’s water lily paintings including the great Agapanthus Triptych of 1916 – 1919, (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; Saint Louis Art Museum, St Louis) works that are closely related to the great panorama that he donated to the French State in 1922 and that are now permanently housed in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. For example, Monet’s monumental triptych of waterlilies will be on view for the first time in the UK.
During preparation for the exhibition, original documents about the case were unearthed by Ann Dumas, co-curator of the Royal Academy’s Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse exhibition.”There was a protest from local farmers who were very suspicious of these strange aquatic plants that Monet wanted to plant because they they would poison their water and kill their cattle,” she said. Monet, who moved to Giverny in 1883, had been able to buy land on the other side of a railway line that bordered his house. It was here he wanted to create his water garden by diverting the river Epte, a tributary of the Seine. Dumas said Monet acquired planning permission for his garden “after a lot of difficulty”. “The farmers were suspicious of Monet anyway,” she added. “He kept himself to himself so they saw him as an outsider. When they got wind that he wanted to make a water garden they complained.”
This exhibition will be among the first to consider Monet’s Grandes Décorations as a response to the traumatic events of World War I, and the first to juxtapose the large Water Lilies with garden paintings by other artists reacting to this period of suffering and loss. Other highlights will include Monet’s Lady in the Garden, 1867 (The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg); Auguste Renoir’s Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford); Monet’s Le bassin aux nymphéas, harmonie verte, 1899 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris); Monet’s Le jardin de l’artiste à Giverny, 1900 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris); Monet’s Water Lilies, 1904 (Musée Malraux, Le Havre); Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau The Garden II, 1910 (Merzbacher Kunststiftung) and Pierre Bonnard’s Resting in the Garden, 1914 (The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo). Works by artists such as Edouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, James-Jacques Tissot, John Singer Sargent, Joaquín Sorolla, Max Liebermann, Santiago Rusiňol, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Emil Nolde and Edouard Vuillard will also feature. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Symbolists, Fauves, and German Expressionists embraced more subjective approaches by imagining gardens as visionary utopias; many turned to painting gardens to explore abstract colour theory and decorative design.
In the early twentieth century, Monet emerges as a vanguard artist. The monumental canvases of his garden at Giverny anticipate major artistic movements that were to come such as American Abstract Expressionism. The exhibition will be arranged thematically, leading visitors through the evolution of the garden theme, from Impressionist visions of light and atmosphere to retreats for reverie and dreams, sites for bold experimentation, sanctuaries of refuge and healing, and, ultimately, signifiers of a world restored to order – a paradise regained. Framing the paintings in the context of broad artistic movements, as well as social and political events, will offer unprecedented paths for understanding the garden as a multifaceted, universal theme in modern art.