This is a book of two readerships, for lovers of gardening and lovers of art will both find much of interest in it. I read as a gardener and found the horticultural content appealing, the insights into art and the artists remarkable and was fascinated by the level of cross-over, or should I say “common ground” there was between the two disciplines. I was especially fascinated to read of the frequency with which artists returned to their gardens and their garden plants to find inspiration and subject matter for their paintings, in the same manner as the enthusiastic gardener goes to the garden every day and sees something new and interesting to enjoy.
The book is in two parts; the first deals with individual artists and the second with groups or communities of artists all of whom had a strong and active interest in gardens and gardening and also found inspiration and subject matter for their art there. Maria Oakey Dewey, who made her garden at Appledore Island, Maine, “planted and tended a garden there, believing that physical gardening provided the best apprenticeship for painting flowers well” and “produced flower portraits to sit beside those of Van Gogh and Monet.” Of course, when we talk about art and gardening in one breath, it is largely due to Monet and his art and his garden at Giverny are inextricably linked.
To whom do we attribute the creation of the white garden? To Vita Sackville West, of course, but Henri Le Sidaner had created one – and a yellow garden, and a blue garden – some thirty years before that at Sissinghurst Castle at his home, La Presbytere in Gerberoy, France. He went on to convince the people of the town to plant two roses outside each of their houses – the Roses of Picardy? – and began the Fete des Roses there in 1908 and this festival is still running today. His, restored, garden was rewarded the status of “Jardin Remarquable” in 2013 and the town was listed among “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.” In his art, he persisted in his attempts to capture the light of twilight, especially in the white garden, and he often painted the flowers in shades of orange.
Emil Nolde, who so often featured red roses and red poppies prominently in his paintings, remarked how, whenever he returned from travels, he felt the glowing colours of the flowers welcomed him home. He also loved to paint dahlias, sunflowers and pot marigolds and has a yellow rose named for him.
The German community of artists, The Blue Rider Group, gathered at and were influenced by the garden designed by Gabrielle Munter and Wassely Kandinsky in Murnau. Both were devoted, even obsessive, gardeners who kept exact logs of what was sown, when it was sown, when and what quantity of vegetables were harvested etc to the extent that Wassely Kandinsky remarked that gardening came first in Murnau and he could only manage more time for painting when he was in Munich.
The individual artists included are Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Max Liebermann, Joaquin Sorolla, Herni Le Sidaner, Emil Nolde, Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali while the artists communities included are Monet and friends, The Skagen painters, The Kirkcudbright artists, William Morris and his circle, the New England Impressionists, the German Impressionists and The Charleston artists. As might be expected, the illustrations are excellent and include many examples of the work of the artists along with photographs of gardens and of the artists in them. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book, interesting and informative, and fascinating to this non-artist gardener to read of and see the inspiration gardening and plants has given to these artists and how, indeed, we may enjoy gardening through another medium, through the eyes of the artists.
It is fortunate that most of the gardens of these artists have been restored and are now open to visitors but, in the meantime, you can certainly enjoy reading about them here and see how a love of plants and of gardening has inspired some of the most wonderful art.
[The Artist’s Garden – The secret places that inspired great art, Jackie Bennett, White Lion, London, 2019, Hardback, 224 pages, £30, ISBN: 978 1 78131 874 4]