A Virtual Garden Visit

During these undreamt of times, people seek solace in whatever ways they can. It might be food and drink, it might be music, it might be gaming, it might be keeping fit or it might be gardening. The latter’s not an option for everyone for a multitude of reasons so the option of a virtual horticultural trip with an angle on art could be something to float your Corona boat. 

During its enforced period of closure, London’s Royal Academy of Arts (RA) has on its website various ways of engaging with art while the galleries are closed. In this week’s mailing is access to a film that has had occasional cinema screenings and was made by Seventh Art Productions to get behind scenes in the creation of the RA’s 2016 exhibition, Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.

Using commentary by art curators, garden writers and artists, including Scottish artist and presenter Lachlan Goudie and the then Artistic Director of RA, arts commentator Tim Marlow, the 90 minute film is an exploration of the symbiotic relationship that artist Claude Monet and his contemporaries had with their gardens.

While it spans the works of artists of the period, who painted gardens as extensions of a domestic bourgeois idyll, such as Gustave Caillebotte, Auguste Renoir, John Singer Sargent, Henri Matisse, Max Liebermann, Henri le Sidaner, Paul Bonnard and Emil Nolde, it is Monet who is at the centre. 

Not only do we get a tour inside the   homely, comfortable and delightfully furnished Monet family home at Giverny, but the camera spans the pleasing organised wilderness that is the famous garden with its iconic Japanese bridge. At the time of filming, it was (and may still be) maintained by head gardener James Priest who calls it a “living tribute to Monet” who created its colour scheme using his artist’s eye and was, in Priest’s words,  the “opposite of ‘good’ taste of the English garden”.  

It is rather pleasing to know that our own National Gallery seems to have stolen at least a bit of march on the wonderful RA by, in 2010, putting on the major international exhibition of over 90 works entitled Impressionist Gardens, that was the only UK showing of this exhibition and the first ever to be devoted to this subject.

Accompanied by soothing music, this instructive and enlightening film is a visual feast of real and painted flowers with close-ups so exquisitely shot you can almost smell the beautiful blooms being gorged by fat bees. The experience makes for 90 minutes more than well spent. It holds the possibilities of rekindling  memories of past travels and gives hope of future ones.

More EXHIBITION ON SCREEN films are available at seventh-art.com.

Irene Brown

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