Royal Scottish Academy Building
31 July - 17 October 2010
I love Spring (1804) by Jean-François Bony: the painting of spring flowers relegates the statue of a warrior goddess in the background to a secondary role. The focus is on the foreground lilacs, hollyhocks, roses, poppies, delphiniums, striped parrot tulips – the very flowers of my wedding bouquet.
|Still life can be stylishly scruffy - Flowers in a Vase by Pierre-Auguste Renoir|
Gardens were outdoor studios; places in which to capture the effects of sun, shade and seclusion. They could be the theatre of fashion or tranquil meditation. Thomas Couturés’ The Reading (1860) depicts a lady engrossed in a book and oblivious to her surroundings. Charles-François Daubigny was commissioned by Napoleon III to paint The Cascade at Saint-Cloud (1865) which is a grand, formal work but, once again, the historic monuments are relegated to the background. Similarly, John Singer Sargent takes a thoroughly Impressionist delight in the incidents of modern life in The Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight (1879) which features children sailing their boats despite the lateness of the hour, and a well-dressed couple strolling at the centre.
|Contemplative colour in Frederick Childe Hassam's Geraniums|
Napoleon III’s ambitious programme of parks and gardens was continued by the Third Republic which came to power in 1871. The new and revamped gardens provided perfect opportunities for the Impressionists to paint ‘en plein air’ but Monet and the other Impressionists preferred the city’s old, historic gardens with spreading trees and natural features. Léon Frederic’s The Fragrant Air (1894) depicts an innocent child sniffing ephemeral blooms redolent of death and mortality.
|Lotus Lillies by Charles Courtenay Curran - the object of his affections|
|Skaters in Frederiksberg Gardens - Paul Gaughin|
James Ensor’s The Garden of the Rousseau Family (1885) and Charles François Daubigny’s Orchard in Blossom (1874) highlight kitchen and vegetable gardens with no ostensible aesthetic purpose, but the abstract design of flat zones of green bisected by paths and walls offers visual impact. Arthur Melville’s A Cabbage Garden (1877) and Alfred Sisley’s The Fields (1874) share the same theme – the latter’s market gardens full of rows of vegetable crops mature with the seasons, while the old spreading tree in the corner indicates continuity.
The Artist’s Garden at Eagny (1898) by Camille Pissarro shows his wife planting seeds. The leaves and flowers shine like jewels while the house behind implies the family for whom she is preparing this food. The Portrait of Karl Nordstrein (1882) by Christian Krohg of a pointed-bearded gentleman standing at a window looking out at a market garden draws our gaze from across the room. We want to see what he’s looking at.
|The Cote des Boeufs at L'Hermitage by Camille Pissarro|