Saturday, 2 August 2014



This lighthearted blog is based on an art book called The Garden in Art by art historian Debra Mancoff. I was drawn to the book in the bookstore the other day solely because the cover illustration is a Pre-Raphaelite painting; Pre-Raphaelite art is one of my favourite art movements. The publication further peaked my interest as it covers the depiction of gardens throughout the history of art from ancient to modern and from east to west. It was very interesting, and contains chapters on topics such as the seasons, private gardens, public gardens, famous gardens and more. It is also an aesthetically appealing book because it has 200 colour illustrations that cover all sorts of well-known international art movements.

Many of my favourite international artists' paintings featuring gardens have been illustrated in this book, however sadly there are no Canadian artists represented. It is understandably very difficult to include work from all countries in a single publication of such broad scope (even with 200 illustrations). However, I can think of many Canadian artists who have painted exceptional garden scenes: private, public, and figurative to name a few. This blog will illustrate examples of Important Canadian Art featuring the garden. This seemed like a fitting subject for a summertime read with beautiful seasonally appropriate imagery.

In The Garden in Art particular attention is placed on the Impressionists of the late 19th century; doubtless because it is a pivotal movement in art and features both private and public gardens as a major source for subject matter. Not surprisingly there are very good paintings incorporating gardens by Canadian artists working in impressionist or post-impressionist styles at home or abroad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

George Agnew Reid The Cloisters 1880 (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

Paul Peel Lady in the Garden 1889 (The Thomson Gallery, Toronto)

George Agnew Reid In the Garden, Paris 1889 (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

Clarence Gagnon Vue des Jardins Publique, Venice circa 1905 (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

James Wilson Morrice Garden circa 1898 (National Gallery of Canada)

Frank Armington Jardin des Tuileries, Paris 1916 (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

Two views of the famous public garden Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris by Frank Armington (1923) and James Wilson Morrice (circa 1905) (Past highlights sold at Masters Gallery)

William Clapp In the Orchard, Quebec 1909 (The Art Gallery of Hamilton)

Arthur-Dominique Rozaire The Garden of Light 1916 (National Gallery of Canada)

Gardens are regularly used as settings for figurative painting as well, in Canadian art no less. Some excellent examples of this are paintings by some of the country’s prime female artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes The Orchard 1890 oil on board (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes The Muse of Herrick gouache (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

Mary Bell Eastlake In the Orchard circa 1895 oil on canvas (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

Randolph Hewton Girl in the Garden 1936 oil on canvas (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

Although the wilderness became a subject of specific national interest in Canada during the first three or four decades of the 20th century, many Canadian artists also chose to depict the quaint, intimate and pastoral properties that the garden alternatively had to offer. Arguably the most famous painting of a garden in Canadian art history is The Tangled Garden by J.E.H. MacDonald.

J.E.H. MacDonald The Tangled Garden 1916 oil on board (National Gallery of Canada)

A few years prior to the official formation of the Group of Seven, MacDonald spent 1915-1916 painting many garden scenes in and around his Thornhill home. MacDonald’s time focusing almost exclusively on sketching and painting the garden was a formative period for the artist. It was a transitional phase between a more archetypical impressionism and what would become his distinct Group period style. His unique garden scenes were considered avant-garde in the eyes of many Toronto art critics of the time, and The Tangled Garden was not met with unanimous praise during its time. Although this was perturbing to MacDonald, he did not give in to the critics’ preferences and instead fueled himself with greater resolve to pave on with his own artistic ideology. There are lots of lovely garden sketches by MacDonald from this period, and he returned to the beloved theme again towards the end of his life in the 1930s.

J.E.H. MacDonald Asters and Apples 1917 oil on board (National Gallery of Canada)

J.E.H. MacDonald Pump and Porch, Thornhill 1916 oil on board (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

J.E.H. MacDonald Garden Flowers, Thornhill 1931 oil on board (Past highlight sold at Masters Gallery)

The garden may have a diminished visual presence in Canadian art around mid-century because the country’s leading artists were focused on abstraction at the time. Though I would not be surprised if the word ‘garden’ showed up a handful or so times in the titles of abstract works, such as Jean McEwen’s Garden of Frost Series.

Jean McEwen Frost Gardem 1956 oil on canvas (National Gallery of Canada)

The garden has survived as a theme in art to the present day. The ever popular and cherished works of well-known Quebecois artist Claude Simard are good attestation to that.


Two works at Masters Gallery by Claude Simard

Enjoy time in the garden this summer!


No comments:

Post a Comment