Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse looks broadly and deeply at the garden theme in modern art through paintings by Claude Monet and fellow Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and avant-garde artists of the twentieth century. A centerpiece of the exhibition is the reuniting of Monets great Water Lilies (Agapanthus) triptych depicting the artists water garden at Giverny. A new contextual understanding of the importance of gardening and gardens in the development of modern art is provided by a sweeping survey of more than 100 paintings by masters such as Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, John Singer Sargent, Joaquín Sorolla, Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Wassily Kandinsky, Emil Nolde, Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse.
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 twin passions for gardening and painting, a relationship that can be traced from his early days at Sainte-Adresse to his final years at Giverny. Gardening was something I learned in my youth when I was unhappy, he remarked. I perhaps owe it to flowers that I became a painter.
The exhibition offers new insights into the subject through a large display of paintings and documentary materials borrowed from 19 private collections and 44 museums, foundations and cultural institutions, including the Musée dOrsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London, the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, the Lenbachhaus in Munich, the Nolde Stiftung in Seebüll, the Museo Nacional Reina Sofía and the Museo Sorolla in Madrid, the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, the Museet Munch in Oslo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others. Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art
and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse will be on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the only U.S. venue, through January 5, 2016.
Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse is organized in six sections that lead visitors through the evolution of the garden theme over a span of nearly seven decades, 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 ordera paradise regained. Framing these 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.
Many of Monets colleagues shared his passion for gardening and were inspired to paint gardens as emblematic of the pursuit of modern, middle-class leisure, said William H. Robinson, co-curator of the exhibition, and curator of modern European art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. They were among the first artists to portray gardens observed directly from life, disconnected from historical, religious or literary themes. As the century drew to a close, Post-Impressionists and Symbolists embraced more subjective approaches by imagining gardens as visionary utopias; many turned to painting gardens to explore abstract color theory and decorative design.
The works have been carefully selected to reveal surprising connections and unexpected, poignant meanings even in familiar paintings. Considering these paintings in the context of what artists wrote about them in their diaries and letters offers revealing insights into the importance and meaning of their garden paintings. Renoir painted roses to improve his rendering of flesh tones. Van Gogh studied flowers to better understand color theory, and painted imaginary gardens filled with symbolic allusions. Emil Nolde and Paul Klee painted gardens, both real and imaginary, as part of their search for an authentic spirituality. Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse will offer new insights into the themes significance and broad appeal to artists during a period of tremendous social change and innovation in the arts.