Joaquin Sorolla , Louis Comfort Tiffany 1911. Source: Royal Academy
The Royal Academy captures the artistic reaction to this in its show Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, which explores how the modern garden influenced the development of art from the early 1860s to the 1920s.
The impressionist movement is key, and most will recognise the much-loved water lilies of Monet adorning the show’s promotional material. But what emerges is an exhibition infinitely richer and more rewarding than a simple collection of pretty pictures.
Vincent van Gogh Garden at Auvers 1890. Private Collection.
The landscapes on view were created in the wake of the “horticultural revolution”, fuelled by the naturalisation of exotic flowers and technological progress in hybridisation. Artists like Monet or Renoir were influenced by William Robinson’s writings, advocating a (semi) “wild garden”. Beyond the aesthetics, there lays a political and moral message, close to John Ruskin’s ideas: gardening was the new conquest of the rising middle class.
The collection includes works by such giants as Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, Sargent and Van Gogh, but a personal highlight was Joaquín Sorolla’s 1911 portrait of Louis Comfort Tiffany, surrounded by the huge swirling purple, yellow and white flowers of Tiffany’s Long Island home.
If you love gardens and gardening, you’ll love this exhibition. But more than that, the sheer scale of the experience gives a taste, as a great garden should, of stepping outside the everyday, and getting lost in another vision of what the world could be.
Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Piccadilly
Until April 20 2016