Monday, August 27, 2007

Gardens in Art: The Painter's Garden

The Painter's Garden
cover illustration: Paul Klee "Ohne Titel (vier Blumen)" Untitled (Four Flowers) ca. 1889
Zentrum paul Klee, Bern. On loan from a private collection

I have been delighting all month in reading - very slowly - "The Painter's Garden" a monumental catalogue of nearly 400 pages produced by Sabine Schulz and published by Hatje Cantz. I'd go so far as to say I've been enjoying it that much that I've been slowing down to avoid finishing it.

Artists featured (selection):

Max Beckmann, Joseph Beuys, Arnold Böcklin, Pierre Bonnard, Lovis Corinth, Camille Corot, Jacques-Louis David, Eugène Delacroix, Max Ernst, Fischli/Weiss, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Lucian Freud, Caspar David Friedrich, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Klee, Max Liebermann, August Macke, Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde, Camille Pissarro, Peter Paul Rubens , Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Thomas Struth, Antoine Watteau

The book has been produced in connection with an exhibition at the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt am Main in Germany called "The Painter's Garden - Design Inspiration Delight" (24 November 2006 to 11 March 2007). The text from the museum website expresses beautifully and far more succinctly than I could what the exhibition - and the book - is about. It gives a flavour of why I am so enjoying this book.

Gardens offer people protection, relaxation and inspiration. They are a place of retreat from the turmoil of everyday life, mirrors of the soul, a budding source of inspiration, and an inexhaustible store of ideas for new images. Over the course of the centuries, they have inspired artists to produce many masterpieces. This exhibition is devoted to the motif of the garden in fine art – spanning all epochs and genres – and presents its diverse portrayal with more than 200 exemplary works from internationally significant museums and collections.

The painted garden is as varied as its interpretations: the mediaeval garden of Paradise represents a magical sphere from which all evil remains excluded; Peter Paul Rubens gathers society groups at play in grandiose palace gardens; Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard abduct the viewer into splendid gardens of love. The psychological interpretation of the garden began with the Enlightenment. Caspar David Friedrich sees himself as a mediator between man and nature, while Carl Spitzweg gives us an insight into small, bourgeois gardens. Finally, the studio windows of Adolf Menzel, Carl Blechen and Lovis Corinth no longer look out on small green refuges, but on narrow, neglected backyards - the first consequences of industrialisation

Impressionists such as Claude Monet laid out lushly planted, imaginative gardens in order to depict them in colourful images submerged in bright light. In the paintings of Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Eduard Manet, man and nature enter into a symbiotic relationship. But this close relationship may also be expressed in a different form, and Vincent van Gogh used the garden as a field of projection for his personal melancholy.

Foreign countries have always attracted artists and scientists to the same extent. Humboldt’s expeditions brought a wealth of plants to Europe, and subsequently these added a new opulence to palm houses, botanical gardens and private gardens. Paul Klee was also drawn to unknown lands. He permitted himself to be inspired by their vegetation’s variety of colours and forms and so arrived at new modes of artistic expression. The concentrated view of individual plants in studies by Georg Flegel and herbaria by Goethe or Paul Klee demonstrates not only an artistic interest, but also considerable botanical knowledge.

As a delightful sphere of experience, a place of peace and a source of inspiration, the garden has always been a productive topic in fine art, and visitors to the exhibition will become aware of its splendour and innumerable facets.

Staedel Museum, Frankfurt - The Painter's Garden

I'd very much recommend this book to anybody who enjoys European art and the notion of an erudite book devoted to the garden in art. This is a high quality publication which is a joy to handle as well as to read.

There are very many things I have enjoyed about this book - here are just some of them:
  • Drawings and paintings from very many different traditions and schools of drawing and paintings - from 1410 to the twenty first century, from egg tempera on wood to colour slides and C-prints.
  • The exhibition and the book contain more than 200 works - including paintings, drawings, herbaria and botanical folio editions. The book also displays the enormous success the curator has had in unearthing various works I've never ever seen before from over 100 different lenders - including a number of private collections.
  • The book includes intelligent, well informed and lengthy essays about the garden in art from different perspectives. The Editor is to be congratulated on the inclusion of contributions from various European academics and scholars.
  • art by artists whose work I've never heard of before and artwork I'd never ever seen before by artists I knew (I've tried looking for images of some of them on the internet and not succeeded - which I think maybe says something about how much we are used to looking at the 'popular' which I know isn't always the same as the 'good')
  • a page devoted to every artist and every work - with a detailed commentary for each work
  • Full descriptions and attributions are given for each work. For example, for a paper and supports fanatic like me, I'm overjoyed that it states what the work is on and not just what media was used to produce the work.
  • high quality production values and excellent colour reproductions
Sabine Schulz who came up with the concept and then curated the exhibition and edited the book has done a really excellent job and is to be congratulated. It looks and feels like a labour of love.

I don't know if the book is going to be generally available and I'd recommend contacting either Waterstone's bookshop in Piccadilly (which is where I bought it) if you have any difficulty getting holding of it or Hatje Cantz.



Laureline said...

This looks WONDERFUL! I may have to add it to my collection. Thank you so much for telling us about it, Katherine.

"JeanneG" said...

I have never been to gardens as grand as the ones you visit, but our group goes tomorrow to a private home and landscaped garden in a part of town that is more pricey. I'm looking forward to seeing what that yard has to offer. I understand it has recently been redone to add more interesting little settings.

I think there will be about 10 of us and the hostess is providing lunch. But we are having 100+ degrees weather this week.

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