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Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse - Royal Academy of Arts

Exhibition preview

FROM January 30 to April 20, 2016, the Royal Academy of Arts is presenting Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, a major exhibition examining 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, Post-Impressionist 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.

Arguably the most important painter of gardens in the history of art, Monet 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. It will be the first time this monumental triptych has been seen in the UK.

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.

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse has been co-organised by the Royal Academy of Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition is curated by Ann Dumas, Curator, Royal Academy of Arts and Dr. William H. Robinson, Curator of Modern European Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. Authors include Monty Don, horticulturalist and presenter; James Priest, Head Gardener at Monet’s garden at Giverny; William H. Robinson, Curator of Modern European Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Ann Dumas, Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts; Heather Lemonedes, Curator of Drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Clare P Willsdon, Professor of the History of Western Art at the University of Glasgow.

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse Gallery.

Image: Claude Monet, Lady in the Garden, 1867. Oil on canvas, 80 × 99 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo © The State Hermitage Museum. Photography: Vladimir Terebenin.

Tickets: £17.60 full price (£16 without Gift Aid donation); concessions available; children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm). Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD

Tel: 020 7300 8000

Website: www.royalacademy.org.uk/