Royal Academy, London
30 January – 2 April 2016
by EMILY SPICER
Painting the Modern Garden brings to light the unexpected significance of the garden in modern European art. And no artist was more an enthusiast than Claude Monet (1840–1926). He not only painted his gardens, but also put a huge amount of effort into creating them, and possessed such a knowledge of horticulture that he became famous as much for his green fingers as for his verdant canvases.
While not surpassed in his passion, or knowledge of gardens, he was not alone in his enthusiasm for painting them. Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Pierre Bonnard and Emil Nolde all join Monet in this vast exhibition, which celebrates form and colour, daisies and dahlias. But more than just comparing the aesthetic properties of plants and paint, Painting the Modern Garden delves into the social significance of the garden in 19th- and 20th-century Europe, from its roots as a bourgeois pastime to its embodiment of peace and harmony in an increasingly industrialised and war-wracked world.
Monet’s Grandes Décorations, his huge paintings of his carefully planted water garden, offered the artist both a retreat from the war that raged around him (he could hear the shells from his home), and a means of fighting back in the only way that he could. When almost everyone else in the village of Giverny had fled, Monet stayed resolutely rooted to his home, refusing to leave and refusing to give up painting in what he considered his patriotic duty. The artist was determined, it seems, to see culture and beauty triumph over violence and death. The garden at Giverny became an oasis in the chaos. “If those savages must kill me,” he wrote, “it will be in the middle of my canvases, in front of all my life’s work.”
The Agapanthus triptych, which Monet started in 1915 and worked on until his death, forms the crowning glory of this exhibition. The three paintings were sold separately to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and have been reunited here to form an immersive 42ft wall of shimmering water lilies.
I spoke to curator William Robinson about this expansive exhibition and Monet’s erudite passion for gardening.
Kerry James Marshall: Along the Way
Finishing its last call on 22 October 2006 was the exhibition entitled 'Along the Way', covering the work of the American artist Kerry James Marshall from Chicago. This excellent show had already been at the Camden Arts Centre in London, followed by the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, then to The New Art Gallery Walsall.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2007
The Royal Academy in summertime is a national institution. As well as the Summer Exhibition this year, there is Impressionists by the Sea, an exhibition of 70 paintings produced at the end of the nineteenth century in France, which charts the economic and social developments in France that brought about the transformation of the seaside. The exhibition will travel to America this autumn.
In the closing years of the seventeenth century, the youthful Peter the Great toured western Europe with a view to modernising Russian culture along the lines of a European state. The developments which arose from this initiative had a profound impact on Russia for the following three centuries and many of its consequences are still with us today. France had a special place in this process and its impact was felt in all aspects of Russian culture, including architecture, painting, music and language.
There is good reason this month in London to revisit Cranach. Last year saw the Courtauld Institute steal a march: this is all the more notable because before these two exhibitions there had never been a Cranach show here.
The John Bellany Odyssey - paintings from Italy, China and the Tsunami
John Bellany's paintings are among the most confrontational, humanistic paintings produced in Britain in recent history. Layered with references to the expressionist tradition in art, and to his own dramatic life, recent death and incredible survival, they are allegories of mortality that have no rival today.