Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse in Cleveland and London



Waterlilies, 1903, Claude Monet, The Dayton Art Institute, Gift of Mr. Joseph Rubin 1953.11.

The Royal Academy of Arts in London starts off the new year with a great exhibition for garden lovers.

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse on view from 30th of January – 20 April 2016. At the moment the exhibition is on view at the Clevement Museum of Art in Ohio USA until 5 January 2016.

Using the work of Monet as a starting point, this landmark exhibition examines the role gardens played in the evolution of art from the early 1860s through to the 1920s.

Dennis Miller Bunker, Chrysanthemums, 1888
 Chrysanthemums, 1888, Dennis Miller Bunker (1861-1890) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Boston, P3w5

And how did those gardens change? From the Victorian pattern garden and planted-oud bedding in the beginning of the 19th century it took a turn into the reviving of the romantic cottage-gardening with wild gardens with perennial plants. Perennial borders as they are known today were first popularly used in gardens in the Victorian era. New imported plant species revolutionized the form of British gardens in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this time Central Park was co-created by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), the father of American landscape architecture. He adapted European garden styles into North American public parks, campuses and suburbun landscapes.

Cat 055
Adam and Eve, 1902, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. Photo: Pernille Klemp

If you are as much of a garden and art lover as me, it’s really worth a trip to go see the garden and flower paintings from the most important Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and Avant-Garde artists of the early twentieth century as they explore the theme ‘Painting the Modern Garden’. Trace the emergence of the modern garden in its many forms and glories as they take you through a period of great social change and innovation in the arts. Monet, arguably the most important painter of gardens in the history of art, said “Gardening was something I learned in my youth when I was unhappy,” he remarked. “I perhaps owe it to flowers that I became a painter.”

But Monet was far from alone in his fascination with the horticultural world, which is why also spectacular masterpieces by Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, Manet, Sargent, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Klimt and Klee will be on show.

Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841–1919). Oil on canvas; 46.7 x 59.7 cm. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, C
Monet painting in his garden at Argenteuil, 1873, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, Bequest of Anne Parrish Titzell 1957. Photo: Allen Phillips/Wadsworth Atheneum

For these artists and others, the garden gave them the freedom to break new ground and explore the ever-changing world around them. Highlights include a remarkable selection of works by Monet, including the monumental Agapanthus Triptych, reunited specifically for the exhibition (first time exposed this way in London), Renoir’s Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil and Kandinsky’s Murnau The Garden II.

Seven decades of garden evolution

Woman in Garden, 1912, Gabriele Münter (1877-1962), Neue Galerie New York. This work is part of the collection of Estée Lauder and was made available through the generosity of Estée Lauder. Copyright Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. 

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse is organized in six sections that lead visitors through the evolution of the garden theme over a span of nearly seven decades, 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 these 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.

“Many of Monet’s colleagues shared his passion for gardening and were inspired to paint gardens as emblematic of the pursuit of modern, middle-class leisure,” said William H. Robinson, co-curator of the exhibition, and curator of modern European art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. “They were among the first artists to portray gardens observed directly from life, disconnected from historical, religious or literary themes. As the century drew to a close, Post-Impressionists and Symbolists embraced more subjective approaches by imagining gardens as visionary utopias; many turned to painting gardens to explore abstract color theory and decorative design.”

Garden at Auvers, 1890, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), private collection

The works have been carefully selected to reveal surprising connections and unexpected, poignant meanings even in familiar paintings. Considering these paintings in the context of what artists wrote about them in their diaries and letters offers revealing insights into the importance and meaning of their garden paintings. Renoir painted roses to improve his rendering of flesh tones. Van Gogh studied flowers to better understand color theory, and painted imaginary gardens filled with symbolic allusions. Emil Nolde and Paul Klee painted gardens, both real and imaginary, as part of their search for an authentic spirituality. Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse will offer new insights into the theme’s significance and broad appeal to artists during a period of tremendous social change and innovation in the arts.




The exhibition is accompanied by a 304-page, fully illustrated, scholarly catalogue produced by Royal Academy Publications. It includes 250 illustrations, and essays by William H. Robinson, Ann Dumas, curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, Clare A. P. Willsdon of Glasgow University, a noted historian of nineteenth-century garden paintings, Heather Lemonedes, curator of drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and an interview by Monty Don with James Priest, currently the head gardener at Giverny.

Childrens BOOKTIP The Green Fingers of Monsieur Monet

Childrens book The green fingers of Mr Monet

A few weeks ago I ran into a childrens book #musthave: The Green Fingers of Monsieur Monet. I hope they sell it at the museumshops in Ohio and London, otherwise you can buy it online. ISBN 9781910350195, author Pia Valentinis.

The book is about Monet and his garden in Giverny (France). A great place full of irises, poppies, roses and the famous water lilies which he celebrated in his vast and glorious paintings.

The book tells how the artist arrived at his garden, about the bright Japanese prints he collected that inspired him; about his famous visitors; how he painted outdoors in all weathers; and about his gardeners, who had to leave Giverny to go to war. Spread by spread, the garden is explained and built up in Ascari’s and Valentinis’s original illustrations that take Monet’s work as their starting point and reimagine it in stunning and unusual ways. The lovely book gently teaches children about art.

I started this blog with my favourite painting of this exhibition. What is your favourite flower or garden painting? Please share it with me.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. I’ve always loved Van Gogh’s sunflowers. The brushstrokes make me want to touch them. And I just love sunflowers in general 🙂 Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! You should really visit the Netherlands (Van Gogh Museum and Kröller-Müller Museum). If you like the Sunflowers you will also love the other paintings by Vincent van Gogh! My favourites are the ones painted in Saint-Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve actually visited Amsterdam many, many years ago (If I had to guess… 2001?) but most of the Van Gogh museum’s exhibition was on show in New York (or somewhere similar) at the time and I was so disappointed! I’ll have to go back! I also visited the “night cafe” in Arles once 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I worked in the Van Gogh Museum in 2001. It might have been 2002 when we had the big Van Gogh/Gauguin exhibition, that was also on display in the States and had a lot of masterpieces from the Netherlands. Auvers-sur-Oise is a great town to visit too. Just 20 minutes from Patis. You can actually walk through the corn fields where Vincent van Gogh used to paint and a visit to the Auberge Ravoux is a really great experience.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh wow, that’s interesting! Both things, I mean. I’d love to visit Auvers-Sur-Oise (France has the prettiest towns anyway!) and how cool that you worked there! It must’ve been 2002 then! Maybe in the spring. I missed all the masterpieces, I love Gauguin too by the way, would’ve loved to see that! Good excuse to plan a new trip though! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. myraho78 says:

    Thank you for stopping by my garden. It just like any other gardens. It is rather unique! I’ll post some for you!


    1. Love to read about your garden! Thanks for stopping by at my blog.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. myraho78 says:

        Thank you! Rebecca.I love to see those beautiful pictures you shot ! Some of the plants I’ve never seen before!


  3. Beautywhizz says:

    I’m yet to see the exhibition and reading your post makes me thinking about going soon. I love Monet paintings and got his water lilies wall calendar. would love to see the other paintings as well.


    1. It really is a must see!! Share your opinion when you have visited the exhibition. There are so many incredible paintings among the very famous ones that you would also love. Enjoy when you go!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Beautywhizz says:

        Thank you, will definitely go as it ends next month.


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