Painting the Modern Garden – Monet to Matisse at the Royal Academy

Lots and lots of gardens and flowers and greenery. Monet was the star – 3 enormous water lily panels had been reunited for the exhibition – but there were plenty of others. Perhaps too many – not every painting received my undiluted attention.

Things I noted:

  • Voyages of discovery from the eighteenth century onwards brought many new plants to Europe and spurred an interest in ornamental gardens. Increasing industrialisation and urbanisation in the nineteenth century contributed to the desire for a green space of one’s own (for those who could afford it).
  • There was a painting by Frédéric Bazille (killed in the Franco-Prussian war) of The Terrace at Médic near Montpellier that captured beautifully that sharp Mediterranean contrast between sunlight and shadow. (I also recall now that I have seen View of the Village at the Musée Fabre.)
  • There was an unremarkable view of the wall of a vegetable garden by Gustave Caillebotte, but it was pastel on paper and there were wrinkles at the edge of the paper that made a beguiling link  between the working artist and me looking at his work today.
  • After the first bunch of blowsy dahlias and stuffed canvasses, Caillebotte’s spare Nasturtiums were a relief.
  • Joaquin Sorolla planted a garden so that he would always have something to paint.
  • After all the French and Spanish paintings, I saw one by Alfred Parsons of orange lilies at Broadway in the Cotswolds – and, oh, the difference in the light!
  • I rather liked Max Liebermann’s paintings of his garden by the Wannsee. In places he really had laid the paint on with a garden trowel. I learned a new word – Stimmungsimpressionismus.
  • Seeing half a dozen of Monet’s water lily paintings in the same room is like experiencing different times of day and seasons simultaneously. His giant water lily triptych was total immersion – rather like swimming in the pond itself.
  • Emil Nolde, expressionist – close-up paintings of flowers done with great energy.
  • I really can’t work out Paul Klee.
  • I will look up colour theory.
  • There were two paintings by Matisse. One was the Pink Marble Table, which had a dull brown background*. Very sombre, even depressive. The audio guide suggested it was because Verdun had fallen. Can I be bothered to prime myself with this information in order to appreciate Matisse? In the event, even forearmed I still didn’t care for it. Monet’s weeping willows did the same in a more interesting and attractive manner.

*The other was Palm Leaf, Tangier.

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