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Sowing the seeds for garden art this summer

Updated: Jun 11

There's an age-old and complex relationship between Art and the garden. It's a vast topic. More a book than a blog. But here are some fragrant facts, nevertheless...

Historically, the “style” of an era is reflected in the art forms developed at that time and one might count a garden, architecture or any part of the visual arts as reflecting, or embracing, this contemporary language and code. Think of the obvious associations between the monastic garden and the Gothic period, the Italian garden and the Renaissance period and the French garden and the Baroque era.

There are also emotional and symbolic aspects that the garden and Art certainly share. Both can represent a myriad of emotions and relay all kinds of comfort, hope and pleasure. As we've discussed in previous blogs, Art, like the garden, can have powerful therapeutic benefits, reducing stress, promoting relaxation and boosting mental well-being.

Digging into history

Of course, there have also been numerous artistic portrayals of gardens, starting with the Biblical Eden. Artists including Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Gustav Klimt and Pierre Auguste Renoir have all indulged their love of painting gardens, flowers and plants. Famously, Monet even established a new tradition in Giverny, using his garden as an extension of his studio.

Monet's contemporary, garden designer and author Gertrude Jekyll, was also focused on creating gardens in which colour harmonies of plants were influenced by her experience of art. They had both studied colour theory, both owning copies of treatises by Claude Naudin and the Belgian botanist, Joseph Decaisne. They also both suffered from failing eyesight, which may, paradoxically, have intensified their obsession with colour. (Interestingly, Jekyll, now regarded purely as a gardening guru, had trained as a painter, being influenced by Turner, whose oil paintings she copied.)

So, gardens both inspire and provide a setting for art. In 1916, artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to a farmhouse in Sussex and, for the next 50 years, Charleston became a meeting place for the Bloomsbury group – writers, artists and intellectuals like Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes and E M Forster. The house was decorated in the Bloomsbury style – with ceramics, textiles and murals inspired by the Post-Impressionists – but the garden was designed in Mediterranean style. In a 1936 letter, Vanessa Bell wrote of "a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples", all of which featured in her still life paintings.

Who or what's in control – and does that matter anyway?

So, are Gardens a form of Art, a kind of artistic expression? If we define Art as 'the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated and admired' then a garden might easily fit in here.

But some say gardens can’t be classified as Art because, in the end, despite human intervention, they’re primarily governed by wild and uncontrollable nature.

According to English garden designer and historian, George Carter (2005), in the 17th to 19th centuries gardening and garden writing were accorded the same status, culturally and intellectually, as writing on the fine arts and architecture. However, more recently, garden creation and appreciation have been downgraded to a more practical, horticultural - rather than artistic - pursuit. Yet the crowd-pulling allure and status of Chelsea is just as strong as the biggest blockbuster gallery or musuem show. And ticket prices for both have rocketed.

The debate goes on...

Our summer 2024 show, Everything in the Garden, aims to encompass these many joyous synergies between gardening and artistic creation.

We have figurative and abstract depictions of beautiful garden scenes, flowers and plants. We have creatures who reside in gardens. We have wild scenes and much more formal constructions. We have fantasy gardens, combining features drawn from across the centuries and the globe, and we have real venues, especially those inspired by the Cotswolds' fertile garden venues and public open spaces. We even have art forms made of materials from the garden.

Our beautiful depictions of formal gardens include, most notably, the diverse works of regional artists who, as part of our broader Everything in the Garden summer fastival, have captured plein air scenes of nearby Painswick Rococo Garden.

As ever, the media we exhibit deliberately covers a multitude. Beads, textiles, glass, wire, wood, paint, ink and print – to name but a few. A bumper crop. So let us lead you down the garden path, introduce you to new ideas and clever creations and encourage you to sample other garden-themed cultural delights in our wider Everything in the Garden festival at Tetbury Goods Shed, Painswick Rococo Garden and our gallery.

For more details call 07841 979273. Or follow us on Instagram: spencer_house_gallery

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