This autumn the Museo Thyssen‐Bornemisza
and Caja Madrid are presenting the exhibition Impressionist Gardens, an extensive survey of the theme of gardens in painting from the mid‐ 19th century to the early 20th century. This is a major project undertaken in collaboration with the National Gallery of Scotland and curated by Clare Wilsdon, Professor at Glasgow University and author of In the Gardens of Impressionism (Thames and Hudson, 2004).
The exhibition includes a large group of Impressionist paintings with masterpieces by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Caillebotte and Berthe Morisot, in addition to works by some of the movements forerunners such as Delacroix and Corot and others by leading names of the following generation including Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Klimt, Munch and Nolde, among many others. In total, nearly 140 works will be shown in the exhibition spaces of the Museo Thyssen‐Bornemisza and Fundación Caja Madrid. Among them are important loans from museums and collections worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Musée dOrsay, Paris, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen , and the Tate, London, as well as numerous institutions and private collections.
Gardens acquired new popularity in France from the 1860s onwards. The introduction and crossing of hundreds of plants and new species from Asia, Africa and South America, as well as the inauguration and opening to the public of the old royal parks, gave rise to a great horticulturalist movement. Growing and enjoying flowers in a decorative garden intended for leisure purposes became a favourite pastime from the mid‐19th century onwards. The painters of the Impressionist group shared this enthusiasm and a number of them exchanged gardening tips and advice and created their own artists gardens. With their interest in colour, plein air painting, the effects of light and subjects from modern life, the Impressionists and their followers naturally turned to flowers, parks and gardens as another artistic motif and a frequent source of inspiration.
Forerunners: Romantic Flower Paintings and Barbizon Landscapes
The exhibition opens in the galleries of the Museo Thyssen‐Bornemisza with a section devoted to the forerunners of Impressionist garden paintings. Flower paintings from the Romantic period represented by Delacroix and others are juxtaposed with the Impressionist compositions of Bazille and Renoir. In contrast to these interior gardens or floral compositions, other painters turned to the outdoors and to an exploration of the garden as landscape, and the Barbizon School painters such as Millet, Corot and Daubigny were the immediate forerunners of Impressionism.
The City and the Countryside; public park and private garden; gardens and vegetable plots
The Impressionists interest in the theme of the garden is characterised by three principal dualities: city and countryside, public and private, and decorative and productive.
The garden was the meeting point between the city and the countryside, firstly because it could be a peaceful realm of nature in the middle of the city or, conversely, a fragment of urban order in the midst of the countryside. Just as the Barbizon painters had depicted country gardens, Manet and the Impressionists discovered the unique form of nature that flourished in Paris parks.
The second pairing is that of public park and private garden. Monet, Pissarro, Berthe Morist and John Singer Sargent saw the public parks of Paris and other cities as the backdrop for an active form of social life. However, in the paintings of Manet, Monet and Morisot the garden could also be the ultimate refuge of private life, conversation, the outdoor meal, reading and repose.
The third pairing is that of the decorative garden, a setting for leisure, and the productive garden, i.e. the vegetable plot or kitchen garden. The last two rooms of the exhibition at the Museo Thyssen focus on Camille Pissarros interest in the latter theme, with his particular emphasis on the figure at work (corresponding to the artists political convictions). Numerous artists who absorbed Pissarros lessons or were influenced by him are represented here, including Cézanne, Guillaumin, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Ensor and Bonnard.
From Post‐impressionism to the early Avant‐gardes
The exhibition continues in the gallery space of Fundación Caja Madrid with an analysis of the subsequent evolution of the theme of the garden in the work of the Impressionist painters, including late works by Monet and Pissarro, and the highly significant influence that they exerted on European and North American painting at the turn of the century. This period saw the continuation of naturalist formulas, now influenced by the quest for effects of light and outdoor atmosphere characteristic of Impressionism, as well as the appearance of new painterly idioms that would lead on to the work of the early 20th‐century avant‐garde movements from Expressionism to abstraction. In this concluding part of the exhibition there are sections devoted to the garden in German and Scandinavian Post‐impressionist painting (Nolde, Ernst, Klimt and Munch), British and North American painting (Childe Hassam, James Guthrie and William Merrit Chase), and a room displaying a selection of garden paintings by Spanish artists such as Sorolla, Regoyos and Anglada‐Camarasa. Lastly, the experiments of Cézanne and Van Gogh lead on to compositions of flowers and gardens by Nolde, Malevich and others.
The exhibition also illustrates the history of gardening in the 19th century in large public parks, suburban gardens and private smallholdings. As such it will be of enormous interest to garden lovers and students of the subject. The research on the new interest and revival of gardening in the 19th century undertaken by the exhibitions curator Clare Willsdon is reflected in the accompanying catalogue, which contains essays and reproductions of all the works on display. A monographic course will be held between November 2010 and January 2011 that will offer an innovative, dual perspective on the history of painting and gardening, two subjects that have been closely associated since antiquity. It benefits from the involvement of leading art historians and architectural historians as well as experts on landscape history and gardening.