[Image by Pamela Nhlengethwa via Unsplash]
Laura and I went to see the Painting The Modern Garden exhibition at the Royal Academy last Thursday. It’s only around for another fortnight, so we took advantage of being ‘Friends’ of the RA and booked a visit after hours. This means there are fewer bodies to each gallery and it’s possible to get close enough to the paintings to smell the flowers.
There was much to enjoy. I especially liked seeing a Klimt (who I had always associated with stately Austrian women in gold emerging from heavily patterned wallpaper rather than flowers), a Munch, a Van Gogh, and three small Paul Klee canvases all within a few feet of each other. The theme of the exhibition, as hinted at in its title, was the modern garden. Modern in the sense of the discovery of gardening among the haute bourgeoisie rather than in the sense of a path, a compost heap, and the neat lawn of more recent urban versions.
Monet loomed large, of course. In the first room, there were adjacent paintings by Renoir and Monet from the 1870s. In the former, Renoir paints Monet painting in his garden. In the latter, Monet is painting the painting he was quite possibly painting as Renoir painted him. Luckily, it was clear that no vegetation was harmed in the process. At this stage the techniques and subjects of Renoir and Monet are remarkably similar. I actually preferred the Renoirs.
Monet then moves to another house — and garden — and his painting style changes. Colours are richer and the paint is applied more thickly. Or perhaps with greater confidence. These are the paintings of Monet I most enjoy: those from the 1880s.
Then Monet moves to Giverny and he creates the pond and discovers water lilies. God, does he discover water lilies. It seems clear that Monet simply went mad in the last quarter of a century of his life. Perhaps there is some undiscovered chemical in water lilies — certainly in the hybrid species he cultivated at Giverny — which turn a person monomaniacal. His wife must have wondered what was going on.
“Claude, darling, what are you doing today?”
“Painting, my sweet.”
“What will you be painting?”
“I thought I might give the water lilies another try.”
“I see. I’ll call the doctor.”