Gardens are an enduring motif in artwork, usually as a picturesque setting for a picnic scene, tea on the lawn or a child picking flowers. But for the Impressionists in Paris in the 19th Century, a movement which coincided with an explosion in enthusiasm for domestic horticulture, gardens became a subject in their own right and not simply a convenient backdrop.
The Impressionists and their gardens forms the basis of a major exhibition, entitled 'Impressionist Gardens,' which opens at the National Gallery of Scotland on Friday, in celebration of the fashionably wild spaces strewn with rambling foliage and overgrown grass they captured in paint.
Garden scenes by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley will appear alongside some by Édouard Manet, who didn’t consider himself an Impressionist, as well as works by a generation of painters who worked immediately after the Impressionists, including Paul Cezanne and Pierre Bonnard.
The exhibition examines the influence on the art of the time of a growth of interest in leisure gardens in France in the late 1800s – signified by the surge in importation of exotic plants like dahlias, chrysanthemums and hydrangeas from the colonies-, as well as the increasing availability of public gardens in the urban landscape.
Pissarro’s ‘The Public Garden at Pointoise’ and Monet’s ‘Parc Monceau’ are tributes to the public spaces of Paris. While Berth Morisot and Renoir’s garden scenes are bold, un-regimented depictions of wild gardens, featuring flower-picking children, large splodges of paint and a riot of colour. Sisley’s ‘The Fields’ provides a more muted and practical pastoral landscape, similar to Pissaro’s ‘Kitchen Gardens at L’Hermitage.’
‘The Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil (A Corner of the Garden with Dahalias)’ and ‘The Garden at Vetheuil’ are a testament the importance Monet (arguably the most important Impressionist painter) placed on his own domestic gardens. Monet claimed that in cultivating Giverny – where he painted his world famous water lilies, three examples of which form a highlight of this exhibition-- he had created ‘his most beautiful work of art.’
The 100 exhibited works have been loaned from private collections around the world as well as from the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the National Gallery of Art in Washington; the Musee s’Orsay in Paris and the Tate Britain in London, among others.
'Impressionist Garden's opens 31 July to 17 October at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, nationalgalleries.org , admission £10/£7