At a time when gardens are becoming a riot of spring colour, it seems appropriate to focus on the recent Painting the Modern Garden, from Monet to Matisse exhibition at the Royal Academy (RA), which I was lucky enough to visit twice. With over 250 exhibits and all around there was much debate about both gardening and painting techniques. Quite fitting, given that subsequently Gertrude Jekyll, one of Britain’s best known garden designers, started her working life as a painter, so was familiar with an artist’s palette of colours.
The paintings exhibited at the RA included garden settings from patios to public parks and reflected the Impressionist and other painting styles, as well as the trend to travel to experience different light and gardening climates or locations. As well as their paintings including the painter’s families, such as Pissarro’s children on the steps amidst towering sunflowers, letters exchanged between painters testify that there seem to have been a lot of friendships, competition, one-upmanship and different preferences and ‘showing off’ between artists, those who had the latest plants or styles and the subjects or garden owners themselves. As they say, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. For example: Pissarro, the ‘cabbage painter’, asked Monet his advice about planting. One of Monet’s garden paintings with profusely coloured dahlias make his garden seem rural but its urban setting is emphasised by Renoir, while Pissarro’s spring plum tree display is trumped by Monet, who painted a small orchard of them! Caillebotte’s brand new, huge oval-roofed greenhouse dominates one of his garden paintings and Sordla’s richly coloured painting shows his client, Louis Comfort Tiffany in his Long Island garden. Monet gardened enthusiastically at rented properties before settling at Giverny, where he eventually managed to extend the garden by buying up an old railway line and getting permission to divert and enlarge the river running through the land beyond. Finally, while Monet’s fascination with light and texture on his lily pond is well known, he also painted chrysanthemums and lilies, illustrating the latest varieties he had acquired.
Most of those I know who also saw the exhibition agreed with me that it was a very interesting collection of paintings, some of which, at least ‘in the flesh’, were new to us. Highlights for one self-confessed Singer Sargent groupie included his sensitive painting Lily, Lily, Rose of the two Vickers children with a watering can. I too loved this very simply composed picture, beautifully executed with wonderful creamy whites predominating. Others particularly enjoyed the Klee, Klimt and Kandinsky and, like myself, were stunned by Santiago Rusinol’s gardens, which conveyed a wonderfully evocative atmosphere through colours, possibly influenced as much by the effects of distantly exploding shells than a mere sunset. Nonetheless, some visitors obviously preferred the more delicate Scandinavian palette, so hopefully they also enjoyed the recent Dulwich Picture Gallery’s recent exhibition, Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup, which also contained some illustrations of blossom and gardens in the north of Europe.
In conclusion, while visitor opinion varied about the use of display lanterns and cold frames (sadly they did not contain real plants), there were certainly some wonderful examples of colourful gardens and contemporary horticultural literature. I also agree totally with William H. Robinson’s closing remark in his introduction chapter within the catalogue that “… By framing these paintings in the context of broad artistic movements, as well as social and political events, the exhibition seeks to provide a deeper understanding of how gardens served as a universal, multifaceted source of inspiration for artists of the modern era”.
An inspiration for the 21st century gardener (and artist) indeed!
May 2016

Christina’s Last Blog

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Last Words: Looking Back on the Past Five Years

 As my five years’ chairmanship draw to a close, I look back with very mixed feelings about the conclusion of my tenure in the Chair of Berkshire Gardens Trust. In 24 hours time, my term of office will be history! On one level, I am sad about this: I will miss hugely the Meetings, the people, the visits, lectures and other events, and the day-to-day interaction with colleagues on all the matters which we have addressed within the Trust, and the friendships I have made. I do though feel a great deal of pride for what has been done. Not personal pride, but collective pride in what we as a group of 4 co-founders, and as a Committee of 10 people have achieved, in bringing the Trust from nothing and building it up into a viable voluntary and very successful organisation in this County. Who would have thought that so much would result from a telephone call from Fiona Hope, whom I did not know, one dark evening in November 2008 – just 5 months before my year began as High Sheriff of the Royal County of Berkshire? The progress we have made in those 5 years has been truly remarkable.

 We have enjoyed a very active period over the last few months, with three important and enjoyable events. These were our Study Day at Purley Hall in June, followed by the visit to the Edwardian gardens at Moor Close in July, and lastly the private visit to Folly Farm, Sulhampstead in August, which was for Gazetteer researchers only. All were well attended, and thankfully the weather was kind each time.

 I chaired my final Committee Meeting at home on 2nd October and was delighted that most of the Committee were able to attend, and to join me afterwards for drinks and substantial canapes. I was particularly pleased that so many husbands, wives and partners were able to join us. Prior to this party, I was extremely moved when the Committee presented me with a parting gift- a copy of the new Berkshire edition of Nicholas Pevsner’s “The Buildings of England “. I didn’t have this, and it was on my list of purchases to make, so I was delighted to receive it! Even more important, it included an adhesive dedication from the Committee, designed of course by Ben Viljoen! I will treasure this for the rest of my life.

 Looking back, there are matters which I would like to have seen further advanced. For example, I would like to have seen the membership higher after 5 years, I would like to have seen our financial balance well into the 5-figure range, and I would like to have seen the Gazetteer rather further along than it is. However, we have a great deal to celebrate and to be proud of. We may have been “the last piece in the jigsaw “, to quote member and sometime Committee Member Christine Weightman, but I like to think we are a very active piece in that jigsaw! We have maintained a regular programme of visits, lectures, talks and study days, the Gazetteer is making progress, we are commenting on Planning matters, and we are active in the re-creation and renovation of gardens. Our first completed one, the Hungerford Tragedy Memorial Garden, was a major achievement and the gardens at Watlington House in Reading are also nearing completion.

 I would like to thank all of the Committee and the members for their support over the last 5 years. It wouldn’t have happened without you ! Thank you all, so very much. Here’s to continuing success in the future !

 Dr Christina Hill Williams DL, Chairman, 2008- 2013. 24th October 2013



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