Many great painters from the past were also avid gardeners who chose to paint their surroundings and families enjoying the garden. Why not? The garden is so full of colour through the months of spring, summer and autumn, with beautiful spaces to view and capture in paint. At this time of year, when let’s face it, the garden looks bare, and some days are cold and bleak outside, inspiration can always be found in art.
Impressionist painters in the 1860s to 1880s created some of the most colourful garden masterpieces because of the trend of painting “en Plein air” or taking the studio outside. Painting before this period was created in the artist’s studio, and the only sketches were made outdoors as a draft. To capture natural light the impressionist painters believed it was essential to paint outside rather than working from memory.
Claude Monet comes to mind first when thinking of art and gardens. His famous paintings of the Gardens at Giverny, the passing seasons at his country home are classic examples of his impressionist garden paintings. The sound and scents of the gardens evocate the summer season, and one can almost hear the child, birds, friends and family around the laden tea table and in the wooded, shady garden.
Camille Pissarro was known as ‘The father of Impressionism’ and painted everyday life in outdoor situations at his home and garden near Paris in Éragny. The blossoms on the tree are the focus of this textured painting of home life in the delightful Spring sunlight.
One of my favourite garden paintings is the one below by John Singer Sargent. The picture is situated in an English garden at Farnham House in Broadway, Cotswolds and has two children with white paper lanterns. As the day ends, you can see the light fading and the surrounding pink roses, carnations, and tall white lilies. The painting was created when Sargent spent a summer in 1885 at the farmhouse when he fled to England from Paris to avoid controversy about his painting Portrait of Madame X. I read that the words of Robert Louis Stevenson inspired Sargent. Stevenson also stayed there whilst composing A Child’s Garden of Verses (another favourite author and book). The children painted are Polly aged eleven and Dorothy (Dolly) aged seven, the daughters of illustrator Frederick Barnard.
During the Art Nouveau style period between 1890 and 1910 the painter Gustav Klimt also painted from the garden. He created works with luminous colours – yellows, reds, deep greens and whites with happiness and cheer. The bright yellow sunflower petals combined with the striking reds, blues and whites of the other flowers contrast with the deep greens of the surrounding shrubs- spectacular and so inspiring. He was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1862 and founded the school of painting known as the Vienna Sezession.
Farm Garden with Sunflowers by Gustav Klimt
The next painting is so appealing, and I would love to be sit in this idyllic setting with a book, and the family pet at my feet. The picture is by Danish-Norwegian painter Peder Severin Krøyer who, along with other Scandinavian 19th century painters, were in a group called Skagen. They met in the small scenic fishing village of Skagen in Denmark every summer from 1870 until the end of the century. The translucent light that came from the sea and sky during the evening, called “The Blue Hour, ” was the artists’ main attraction. Their style is reminiscent of the French Impressionists’ “en Plein air” techniques, creating beautifully soft, light-hearted colours in the garden and trees. The effect is very inviting and restful.
Matisse, Klimt, Kandinsky, Monet, Pissarro, and Van Gogh, among many other artists, were all inspired by gardens to varying degrees. Another is Emil Nolde, a German-Danish expressionist painter who displayed a strong relationship between art and gardening. His paintings have a heightened sense of colour, and it is said he planted two flower beds in the initials of himself and his wife, Ada.
Nolde’s garden was one of his most beloved projects where he vividly depicted flowers in bright reds, blues and greens. He has also captured simple domestic scenes that reflect the calm of one’s garden on sunny, summer afternoons.
My last inspirational artist is Matilda Brown, 1869–1947, a female American impressionist painter not always recorded as such but never-the-less a great artist from a very young age, who often painted from the garden and farm in Connecticut. I love her work and would be very happy to just step inside one of these paintings. They are everything I would like to see in the garden; richness of colour, soft light, texture and a bucolic setting.
Matilda Browne was a successful artist who won numerous awards, such as a medal at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. She held many exhibitions including at the Paris Salon.
Title quote by Sir Walter Scott
Full Header Image above by Matilda Browne
Content Di Baker 2022