News - Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

Experience a summer garden in the dark days of winter with Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse in the Main Galleries of the Royal Academy of Arts...

Last month, and running until 20th April, the Royal Academy of Arts opened Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, a major exhibition examining the role of gardens in the paintings of Claude Monet and his contemporaries. With Monet as the starting point, the exhibition spans the early 1860s to the 1920s, a period of tremendous social change and innovation in the arts, and includes Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Avant-Garde artists of the early twentieth century. It brings together over 120 works, from public institutions and private collections across Europe and the USA, including 35 paintings by Monet alongside rarely seen masterpieces by Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Gustav Klimt and Wassily Kandinsky.

Arguably the most important painter of gardens in the history of art, Monet was also an avid horticulturist who cultivated gardens wherever he lived. As early as the 1860s, a symbiotic relationship developed between his activities as a horticulturist and his paintings of gardens, a relationship that can be traced from his early years in Sainte-Adresse to his final months at Giverny. ‘I perhaps owe it to flowers’, he wrote, ‘that I became a painter’. A rich selection of documentary materials including horticultural books and journals, as well as receipts for purchases of plants and excerpts from letters, will be included in the exhibition.

Highlights of the exhibition, seen previously in Ohio, include a magnificent selection of Monet’s water lily paintings including the great Agapanthus Triptych of 1916 - 1919, (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; Saint Louis Art Museum, St Louis) works that are closely related to the great panorama that he donated to the French State in 1922 and that are now permanently housed in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. It is the first time this monumental triptych has been seen in the UK. This exhibition is also among the first to consider Monet’s Grandes Décorations as a response to the traumatic events of World War I, and the first to juxtapose the large Water Lilies with garden paintings by other artists reacting to this period of suffering and loss.

Other highlights include Monet’s Lady in the Garden, 1867, Auguste Renoir’s Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873, Monet’s Le bassin aux nymphéas, harmonie verte, 1899,  Monet’s Le jardin de l'artiste à Giverny, 1900, Monet’s Water Lilies, 1904, Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau The Garden II, 1910 and Pierre Bonnard’s Resting in the Garden, 1914. Works by artists such as Edouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, James-Jacques Tissot, John Singer Sargent, Joaquín Sorolla, Max Liebermann, Santiago Rusiňol, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Emil Nolde and Edouard Vuillard also feature.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Symbolists, Fauves, and German Expressionists embraced more subjective approaches by imagining gardens as visionary utopias; many turned to painting gardens to explore abstract colour theory and decorative design. In the early twentieth century, Monet emerges as a vanguard artist. The monumental canvases of his garden at Giverny anticipate major artistic movements that were to come such as American Abstract Expressionism.

The exhibition is arranged thematically, leading visitors through the evolution of the garden theme, from Impressionist visions of light and atmosphere to retreats for reverie and dreams, sites for bold experimentation, sanctuaries of refuge and healing, and, ultimately, signifiers of a world restored to order – a paradise regained. Framing the paintings in the context of broad artistic movements, as well as social and political events, will offer unprecedented paths for understanding the garden as a multifaceted, universal theme in modern art.

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse has been co-organised by the Royal Academy of Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition is curated by Ann Dumas, Curator, Royal Academy of Arts and Dr. William H. Robinson, Curator of Modern European Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, whose authors include Monty Don, horticulturalist and presenter; James Priest, Head Gardener at Monet’s garden at Giverny; William H. Robinson, Curator of Modern European Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Ann Dumas, Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts; Heather Lemonedes, Curator of Drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Clare P Willsdon, Professor of the History of Western Art at the University of Glasgow.


Open to public until Wednesday 20 April 2016, 10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm)

Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm)


£17.60 full price (£16 without Gift Aid donation); concessions available; children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free. Tickets for Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse are available daily at the RA or online at Group bookings: Groups of 10+ are asked to book in advance. Telephone 020 7300 8027 or email

Images and info  -  Royal Academy of Arts

Claude Monet, Nymphéas (Waterlilies), 1914-15. Oil on canvas, 160.7 x 180.3 cm. Portland Art Museum, Oregon. Museum Purchase: Helen Thurston Ayer Fund, 59.16. Photo © Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon; 

Vladimir Terebenin; Auguste Renoir, Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873. Oil on canvas, 46.7 x 59.7 cm. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. Bequest of Anne Parrish Titzell, 1957.614. Photo © Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT

Claude Monet, Lady in the Garden, 1867. Oil on canvas, 80 x 99 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo © The State Hermitage Museum. Photography: 

Joaquin Sorolla, Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1911. Oil on canvas, 150 x 225.5 cm. On loan from the Hispanic Society of America, New York, NY. Photo © Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York; 

Emil Nolde, Flower Garden (O), 1922. Oil on canvas, 74 x 89.5 cm. Nolde Stiftung Seebüll. © Nolde Stiftung

Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau The Garden II, 1910. Oil on cardboard, 67 x 51 cm. Merzbacher Kunststiftung. Photo ©
Merzbacher Kunststiftung; 

Pierre Bonnard, Resting in the Garden (Sieste au jardin), 1914. The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo Photo © Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design/The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design / © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015; 

Henri Matisse, The Rose Marble Table, Issy-les-Moulineaux, spring-summer 1917. Oil on canvas, 146 x 97 cm.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund, 1956. Photo © 2015. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New
York/Scala, Florence / © Succession H. Matisse/ DACS 2015; 

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