Monday, 17 August 2015

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden

I went to this charming exhibition on a sunny day last weekend and left feeling rather spellbound. The curators have done a beautiful job, the deep colors on the walls, the urns from Hampton Court flanking the entrance and the mini pergola set up within the first room to house the paintings all set the scene wonderfully. And that's all without taking into account the extraordinary array of works on display.

The exhibition takes you through the history of garden design with sections such as the Renaissance garden, the botanical garden and the landscape garden among others. It shows how men and women have interacted and used gardens for leisure, scientific study or to impress foreign courts and it celebrates the pivotal role they play in our existence.

The Royal Collection is rich in objects and for this exhibition they have been drawn from all mediums alongside numerous paintings, prints and sculptures there are ceramics, pieces of jewellery, original books and even a wheelbarrow.

The first work that really captured my attention was this wonderful Jan Breugels the Elder's Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

In the painting the actual figures of Adam and Eve are pushed away and placed in a clearing in the background, they are almost the last thing you see. The scene has been used instead as the perfect excuse to demonstrate Breugel's creative prowess and knowledge of botany and natural history. In the Bible it is written that much like Noah's ark there were male and female counterparts of every animal in the Garden of Eden.

The joy of this painting is spotting the different animals seeing where the artist has understood and portrayed the difference between the two genders and looking at his attempts to paint the more exotic animals he would never have actually seen. Breugel, despite not being well traveled himself, would had a good knowledge of animals because he was able to study the menagerie of animals kept at the court of the Archdukes in Brussels and the zoological library and even larger menagerie of Rudolf II.

It's a captivating work with seemingly endless engrossing details such as the Macaws sitting in the tree, the dogs arguing with the ducks or the little guinea pigs in the bottom right all set in a lush verdant landscape.

From the paradise gardens, courtly gardens, fantastical gardens and early experiments with garden design we rapidly progress to the full blown decorative and ornamental gardens of the 18th Century. Naturally many of the images are of the elaborate gardens of the Royal Palaces such as St James, Kensington and Windsor. 

The painting above by Leonard Knyff is a spectacular example of these it shows us the extensive buildings and grounds at Hampton Court. It reveals the contrasts within the grounds. There is a semi circular elaborately patterned and gated garden with beautiful vistas towards the palace facade and decorative fountains. This is surrounded by large fields divided by lines of trees and which on closer inspection are full to the brim with deer. On the right the artist has of course included the famous maze using the aerial viewpoint of the painting to show it to it's best advantage.

Detail from Leonard Knyff's painting of Hampton Court

But it is not just the paintings that steal the show there are also exquisite and often one of a kind objects throughout the show. Through the ages the Royal family have often had the best of things so you can expect to see handcrafted faberge pieces, Porcelain services made exclusively as elaborate gifts for the family or dramatic pieces commissioned by them directly.

One that I found very touching was this gorgeous headdress from the orange blossom parure.

It was a set that Prince Albert gradually gave to Queen Victoria during their marriage. The tradition started with one of his first gifts to her, an orange blossom brooch at the time of their betrothal then around Christmas in 1845 he gave her earrings and another matching brooch and finally on their wedding anniversary in 1846 he gave her this tiara to crown the set. Orange Blossom evidently had a sentimental significance to the pair as Queen Victoria wore sprigs of real orange blossom in her hair and on her bodice on their wedding day as you can see in this painting of  Victoria in her wedding gown by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

I could have spent hours wandering around and exploring the endless details in the works and I fully intend to return using the one year pass scheme on the ticket.

I would recommend booking as the exhibitions in the Queens Gallery get booked up very quickly during the summer opening of the State Rooms.