The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London are organizing an innovative exhibition that examines the role of gardens in the paintings of Claude Monet and his contemporaries. 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.”
While Monet remains the touchstone, the exhibition also looks broadly and deeply at the garden theme in modern art through the inclusion of paintings by other Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and avant-garde artists of the early 20th century. The exhibition will lead 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 these 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.