Thursday, 11 February 2016

'Painting the Modern Garden - From Monet to Matisse' at the Royal Academy

I like gardens and flowers, I like painting and I love Monet and Matisse so this exhibition was designed to reel me in, wander round awe-struck and then buy postcards and the exhibition catalogue. I couldn't help it and neither could the unknown crowds who visited with me. After the first few rooms I decided that this was the must-see exhibition of the Spring in London - it is gorgeous, it is emotionally stimulating, it is truly fab (obv). Hundreds and hundreds of paintings (-ish) and dozens and dozens of rooms (well, it felt like it), the Royal Academy has scored a hit with this exhibition. Did I like it? O yes!

I've been to quite a few exhibitions at the Royal Academy and this was easily the most crowded so, if you want to see it, book tickets now to avoid disappointment. Is it the idea of gardens or flowers or the Impressionists and those that came after them that proves to be the draw? I don't know but I certainly want to go back before it closes. The paintings are glorious and it will take your breath away to see so many paintings on a similar theme all grouped together. It's fascinating to consider how different artists at different times saw their gardens so differently.

The Royal Academy keeps the theme going by replacing the leather benches with park benches to sit on, plants growing in a mini-greenhouse and books and letters describing the gardens we see. That's a nice touch from the curators - let's show that some of the painters were also serious gardeners and swapped cuttings and ideas. Because they did. I was vaguely surprised that some were keen gardeners but I'm not sure why that is - why shouldn't they like growing things and designing gardens? I'm jolly pleased they did because it led to some wonderful paintings.

There was one room that made me feel like I was in the flower tent at the Chelsea Garden Show, surrounded by banks of flowers, and I'm sure that's what the curators intended - one of the paintings is on the cover to the catalogue, Monet's 'Chrysanthemums', which is a glorious explosion of colour. As I entered the room I saw the painting out of the corner of my eye and headed straight for it. I've never seen it before and I wanted to jump into it.

As well as Monet and Matisse, there are paintings by all sorts of people, from the Impressionists onwards to those who took their art so much further. We see the delights of Pissarro and Renoir, a few by Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot, Van Gogh, and there are paintings by Kandinsky, Klee, Munch, Nolde and so many others. There are lots of paintings by M. Monet and his garden, of course, and the final room shows three enormous water lilies canvases placed together as a farewell to the art of painting a garden.

It's also nice that the curator hasn't gone for the 'usual' or 'obvious' paintings by the artists (except for Monet - you've got to have some waterlilies!). This shows us another side to these artists, a side I didn't know. Who knew that Caillebotte used to swap cuttings with Monet? I've only ever seen his 'urban' Parisian paintings but now I've seen his garden and learned more about him. It's also nice that this exhibition starts in winter and closes in spring - the glorious warm colours and shafts of light brightening up the cold, drab, grey winter outside. Great timing. When it finishes London will be full of greenery and spring flowers again.

Don't miss this amazing exhibition - I shall return!

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