Chinnor & District

Painting the Garden

The June presentation took the theme of ‘Painting the Garden’. If we are asked to name a painting of a garden, we might think only of the familiar impressionist paintings by Monet of his famous water lilies, but gardens have been painted for millennia and this presentation took a quick look at the changing representation of gardens from Roman times to David Hockney.

We began in 20BC in ancient Rome, with a rare and well preserved wall painting on a dining room wall, bringing the cool garden inside. Wall paintings of gardens were also popular in the bedchambers of newly married couples, reminding them of Venus, the goddess of love.

Pictures of gardens have been used for centuries to represent Bible stories and messages for thousands of illiterate churchgoers. Symbolism was very important, with walled gardens representing the purity of the Virgin Mary. Flowers were frequently used by artists to represent characteristics of Biblical characters: the rose as a symbol for Mary, and the lily to represent the innocence and purity of Jesus. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood also adopted this form of painting.

Paintings of gardens reflected the changing fashions in garden design, from the formal geometric designs of the Baroque period e.g. the gardens at Versailles, to the more informal settings which were often used by Thomas Gainsborough as backdrops to his portraits, and paintings of more humble settings such as John Constable’s vegetable garden in Suffolk.

As the age of photography dawned, many artists felt they no longer had to create detailed representations of nature, but wanted to capture the impression of what they saw. Hence the birth of the impressionist style of painting with Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and Camille Pissarro, to name just a few.

Following the First World War, many artistic groups were formed, all with their different styles, ranging from near abstract (Henri Matisse), to atmospheric (Pierre Bonnard) and near cubism (Wassily Kandinsky).

The presentation ended in 2000, with a very colourful picture by David Hockney of his garden in the Hollywood Hills.

Sian Stevens (June 2021)