Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden – Queen’s Gallery

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The Queen’s Gallery

This weekend I visited the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace in order to see the exhibition Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden. Described in the introduction as “where man and nature meet”, gardens have existed in many different forms over the years: public and private, open and closed, reflecting the owner’s status and approach to life. The exhibition looks at the many different ways in which artists have looked at gardens between 1500 and the early 20th century.

The very first picture on display was an example of a garden as paradise: Mir ‘Ali Sir Neva’i’s Seven couples in a garden (c. 1510). From then on, the exhibition was divided into themes, following a roughly chronological order.

The Sacred Garden explored the use of gardens to represent symbolic meaning, for instance in Rembrandt’s Christ and St Mary Magdalene at the Tomb (1638). These pictures often show religious scenes and include objects such as the fountain of life. It was only in the 16th century when real gardens started to appear in art: Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (1615) includes lots of different animals, including parrots, horses and lions. I enjoyed trying to spot all the different animals in this picture.

The Renaissance Garden shows how from the late fifteenth century, formal, classical and literary-influenced gardens were common, with such features as mazes and topiary. Pozzoserrato’s Pleasure Garden with a Maze (1579-84) features a Venetian setting and is a very grand garden. Around this time, books about gardens by figures such as John Evelyn and Gervase Markham were common. On display is Henry VIII’s copy of the first and most important garden manual of the Renaissance, the Ruralia Commoda (c. 1490-95) by Petrus de Crescentiis.

From the 16th and 17th centuries, new kinds of flowers and plants were brought over from Africa, Asia and the New World and cultivated in Europe: The Botanic Garden looks at the growth of the science of botany and the ‘florilegium’ or flower book during this period. Still lives became more common: I particularly liked Maria van Oosterwyck’s Still Life with Flowers and Butterflies (1686), a beautiful picture. Some of Da Vinci’s drawings of plants are on display, as well as a painting from around 1677 showing Charles II being presented with a pineapple cultivated in England – impossible as pineapples were not grown in this country at that time.

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Still Life with Flowers and Butterflies (1686), Maria van Oosterwyck

The small room between two of the gallery rooms is given over to elaborate china and some exquisite Fabergé flowers from around 1900. The next section, The Baroque Garden, explores how water features, aviaries and urns became popular in ever more elaborate gardens. Large scale, aerial views were common in art as people wanted to show off their gardens. This section includes pictures of London palaces, including Kensington and Buckingham, as well as Windsor Castle’s garden and William III’s gardens at Hampton Court, shown in Leonard Knyff’s painting from around 1703. Other works include Jacob Wauters’ A pergola (c. 1650) and Jakob Bogdani’s Birds in a landscape (c. 1691-1714).

The Landscape Garden looks at what was apparently England’s greatest cultural export of the eighteenth century, in which nature and rolling views were seen as ideal. William Hogarth’s The Family of George III (c. 1731-2) shows the royal family in the beautiful Richmond palace gardens. Other pictures show St James’s Park and the Mall as well as Kew Gardens, emphasising the people walking around enjoying them. This section also includes the beautiful Sunflower Clock (c. 1752), made by the Vincennes Porcelain Factory.

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The Sunflower Clock

The Horticultural Garden examines the growth of horticultural expertise, the emphasis of nurture over nature and the language of flowers, showing how plants were moved indoors and cultivated. The royal family were increasingly seen in a garden setting in both real life and art: Laurits Regner Tuxen’s The Garden Party at Buckingham Palace 28 June 1897 (1897-1900) illustrates the party that took place to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. The exhibition ends with a display of some beautiful fans decorated with flowers, as well as some garden-inspired jewellery given by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria.

I really enjoyed this exhibition: it was interesting to see how the representation of gardens in art has evolved through time. I would recommend it to anyone interested in art, and also to those fascinated by gardening.