Impressionist Gardens was a major international exhibition of over 90 works including loans from collections around the world, and is the first ever to be devoted to this subject.
The famous names of Impressionism were well represented, with fine examples by Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Manet and Sisley. The exhibition also examinesd the continued significance of the Impressionist garden to the generation of artists working immediately after the Impressionists, such as Cézanne and Bonnard.
A final section examines the spread of the Impressionist garden in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. European and American artists such Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Gustav Klimt and John Singer Sargent feature in this section.
This was the only UK showing of this exhibition.
Exhibition organised by the National Galleries of Scotland and Museo Thyssen–Bornemisza, Madrid.
Towards the Impressionist Garden
The nineteenth century witnessed a heightened interest in the classical concept of ‘the pleasant place' and a sense that this could be found close to home, rather than in exotic lands or imagined scenes.
This idea finds expression in Neoclassical painter François-Xavier Fabre's work, featuring the meandering paths and spacious lawns of the Cascine Park near Fabre's home in Italy. Rather than include figures from classical mythology, Fabre instead chose to paint his contemporaries.
Romantic landscape painter Paul Huet also sketched local scenes, finding inspiration at Saint Cloud, the former royal park near Paris. Fellow artist Charles-François Daubigny also drew from his own surroundings, stating ‘the paintings which result are imbued with a sense of intimacy, and the sweet sensations which you feel there.'
Daubigny, one of the first artists to complete a painting out of doors, was an important precursor of the Impressionists.
Flower and Leisure Gardens of Mature Impressionism
By the 1860s, growing and enjoying flowers in a decorative or leisure garden had become a favourite pastime in France. Monet painted the Parc Monceau in Paris several times and, by the 1880s, artists from overseas began to paint the city's parks and gardens.
As well as painting public places, the Impressionists depicted the private garden. In many of their works a sense of intimacy and accessibility is conveyed, with paths leading the viewer into the composition, or flowers and plants seemingly spilling out of the painting.
However, it is the artist's garden, both cultivated and painted by the individual artist, which comes to the fore as an essentially Impressionist invention. For the Impressionists, the privacy of the artist's garden provided a place for dedicated investigation of the effects of colour, light and atmosphere on figures, flowers and plants.
Kitchen, Peasant and Market Gardens from 1870
Kitchen and market gardens inspired the Impressionists as places which, being cultivated throughout the year, give a particularly vivid sense of time and seasons. Artists such as Pissarro and Sisley evoked specific seasons through use of a new luminous palette and created atmospheric effects with reflected colours and broken brushstrokes.
Since vegetable gardens lacked the variety and intensity of colour provided by flowers, the artist was required at times to ‘make something out of nothing'. Consequently, though centuries old, these kitchen gardens gave rise to innovation. Cézanne's 1881 view of the gardens at l'Hermitage, Pontoise, for example, excludes all human activity and the motif of the garden is distilled to its essence.
Images of vegetable gardens often had strong utopian associations, presenting a vision of a better world. Impressionists used the kitchen and market gardens to show labour made pleasurable by the vibrant sensations of different seasons.
Fresh Growth and New Blooms in Late Impressionism
Between the early 1880s and early 1920s, Impressionism underwent substantial changes and new styles and approaches emerged in France and beyond. The paintings produced often speak intimately and directly of their artists' ideals and visions.
Monet used his famous water garden at Giverny as a motif to explore new themes. By filling the entire canvas with the surface of the water lily pond and its reflections, Monet conveys a sense of total immersion in nature. Anarchist writer Octave Mirbeau wrote of Monet's ‘intoxicating pictures that can be inhaled and smelled'.
In late nineteenth-century Germany and Austria, ‘mood' Impressionism (Stimmungsimpressionismus) emerged at the hands of artists such as Liebermann, Eitner, and Leo von Kalckreuth. Here, the link between colour and subjectivity was significant, as seen in Kalckreuth's vivid evocation of the intensity of a child's perception of a rainbow in a garden. The expressive and decorative possibilities of colour, the search for a perfect world and the sense that a garden truly reflects its creator, are recurrent themes in late Impressionism.
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