Artists and their Gardens – Twigs Way

On Tuesday 19th October we were so pleased to be joined by Dr Twigs Way.  Dr Way is a researcher, writer and consultant in garden history and designed landscapes.  She is well known to members of the BGA as, amongst other things, she lectures at Rothsay Education Centre, gives talks to The Arts Society and has also visited us in Biddenham on numerous occasions.  Twigs started the session by saying that she would be talking about artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and that although many of the gardens depicted were from the heartland of France she would also be referring to gardens in England and Germany.  Twigs presentation was wide ranging – here is a small snapshot of her talk:

Twigs took as her theme well known artists who were also horticulturalists and  gardeners.  They were drawn together by their love of art and gardening and influenced each other in both. Many of these artists were used to painting “en plain air” and so capturing the images of their own gardens was a natural progression.  Gardening is an art in itself – it is an art form and painting gardens, plants and landscapes  becomes a reciprocal, reflective relationship.  Many of the artists knew each other and regularly visited each others gardens and indeed some, as in Broadway in the Cotswolds, Charleston in Sussex and Benton End in Suffolk lived together.  During Twigs’ talk and looking at the stunning paintings we caught glimpses of the life these artists lived with their wives, mistresses and children. 

There were many similarities in the artists’ work in capturing the outside space.  They portrayed their gardens and often the same view of the garden over and over again at    different times of the year and different times of the day – using the light so that each painting took on a different aspect reflecting contrasting tones and hues. Twigs drew our attention to the splashes of colour and daubs of paint depicting bright pink and red of pelagoniums, nasturtiums and chrysanthemums.  These colours were often picked out in the colour of the dresses worn by the women and children portrayed.  I particularly liked Frederick Frieseke’s painting of the women in white dresses in the garden at Giverny reflecting the white of the tall lilium regale in the background.  Many of the paintings depicted looking into the garden – this was true of Monet and Caillebotte.  The artists often planted their gardens in blocks of colour, as in a paintbox and this was reflected in the blocks of colour used in their artistic impressions.  The artists also took flowers, for example chrysanthemums, from their gardens to paint still life pictures. In contrast Pierre Bonnard, who knew Monet well and visited Giverny frequently, had a small garden and portrayed this in a different way – looking out from his  “Garden of Eden” as he called it to the landscape beyond.  It was a jardin sauvage  – wild and overgrown but it also let in the light.

Monet, in particular, was obsessed with his garden at Giverny, he put his whole life into creating it, telling visitors when to come to catch the various flowers at their best.  His garden became his legacy for his friends.  Like many of the other artists he created a formal garden but transformed this, in his paintings, into something more impressionistic, less formal and unstructured.  The gardens provided the inspiration, but as some of the photographs of these gardens revealed, they were perhaps not factually        portrayed.  However, the gardens these artist/gardeners captured on canvas brought to life the personal paradise they had created.  Monet said “My garden is slow work – pursued by love” and “All the money I earned went into my garden.”  I think many of us can relate to those sentiments.  How lucky we are that he and the other artists had the talent and inspiration to provide such a wonderful legacy for us to enjoy.

Many thanks to Twigs for such an informative and enjoyable talk and for reminding us that, as well as visiting gardens, there is such joy to be had from art galleries and exhibitions.

Please join us on Tuesday 16th November at 7.30 pm, on Zoom, for the “Illustrated story of my Garden” by Chris Bamforth Damp.  Details can be found on our website.  As usual this meeting will be open to all members and visitors.

Linda Truscott

Additional Information mentioned by Twigs >>>


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