Painting Paradise: Art of the Garden – Royal Collection Pt 4

Gardens at Kew Schalch Royal Collection

Johan Jacob Schalch, The Gardens at Kew, c.1760, courtesy Royal Collection Trust, ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

A delightful painting of Kew Gardens held for the nation by the Royal Collection Trust will be on view in Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden at London.

It will be an important aspect of the exhibition in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace March 20 – October 11, 2015, as it reflects the all-new influence on the required picture perfect landscape as it evolved in England from the 16th – 20th century.

With the expansion of the trade with China an exotic influence in the form of a pagoda, is gently intruding on the view. In the distance it is the only obvious sign of human intervention among the gently sloping hills. Its presence informs the viewer the garden is in England, proved by the gently grazing sheep and luminous lake in the foreground.

Pagoda-Kew-GardensThe show will feature paintings, botanical studies, drawings, books, manuscripts and decorative arts, which depict the evolution of the garden and its inherent symbolism from the early twentieth century.

Before the nineteenth century artistic innovation had developed slowly through either a feudal or monarchical aristocratic elite who attained and established high standards through patronage.

The traditional assurance of inherited continuity and wealth gave the aristocracy a sense of real stability as they actively promoted a developing culture in the art of ‘paradise gardens’.

This in turn ensured artistic freedom for the artist and craftsman, enabling them all to attain the highest level of achievement and success.

Marco Ricci, A View of the Cascade, Bushy Park Water Gardens, c.1715, courtesy Royal Collection Trust, ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Marco Ricci, A View of the Cascade, Bushy Park Water Gardens, c.1715, courtesy Royal Collection Trust, ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

In any study of plants now used in landscapes and gardens three closely linked experts stand out.

Philip Miller, (1691-1771) a former administrator of the Chelsea Physick garden whose Gardeners Dictionary ran to eight editions during his lifetime and eight more before 1830.

The second was Swedish Naturalist Carl von Linne or, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) founder of the modern scientific nomenclature for plants and animals whose system of botanical nomenclature was published in Systema Naturae (1735) followed by Fundamenta Botanica (1736) Genera Plantarum (1737) and Cricia Botanica (1737)

In 1749 he gave each plant a Latin generic name with a special adjective. During his lifetime he occupied a uniquely influential position in natural history.

There was a growing numbers of plants waiting to be assessed, categorized and cultivated for the burgeoning population of gardeners keenly interested in establishing their own status in a new hierarchy of social order.

George Dionysus Ehret, 1743, London, Bull Bay; Magnolia grandiflora L., watercolour and gouache on vellum courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum, London

George Dionysus Ehret, 1743, London, Bull Bay; Magnolia grandiflora L., watercolour and gouache on vellum courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The third was George Dionysius Ehret, German flower painter extraordinaire who married Miller’s sister in law on a visit to England and remained there.

He recorded on paper and vellum a large supply of new plants, expanding the ideas associated with botanical illustration.

The irregularity of English gardens in their quest for an ideal landscape gradually evolved into twisting paths creeping around natural looking lakes, with banks and glades.

Trees were planted, a temple column or pavilion added, and European and Oriental styles mixed were with equanimity.

With the freedom to introduce sinuous forms in ground plans and decoration came the freedom to experiment with new ideas.

This is the period where the impetus of the gardening evolution switched from the private to the public domain.

Christmas Rose; Helleborus niger 1745 (painted) George Dionysus Ehret - watercolour and bodycolour on vellum.

Christmas Rose; Helleborus niger 1745 (painted) George Dionysus Ehret – watercolour and bodycolour on vellum.

From being the perogative of the nobility, parks and gardens became pastimes of pleasure for the people

The industrial revolution was in full swing. In England and Europe the rising wealthier middle classes sought to emulate the gentry and aristocracy.

In London at St. James’s Park promenading on a daily basis was definitely de riguer –  it was a matter of seeing others and for being seen.

The aim was to create Arcadian settings for all and sundry and there was no longer threatening forests but an urban landscape.

The Horticultural Society in London formed in 1804 enjoyed the encouragement of naturalist and patron of science Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) ) who documented the plants of the English colony down under in the land now known as Australia.

It proved so successful that by 1842 there were 200 branches in England alone, and then they took on the rest of the world.

Intrepid plant hunters braved the wilds of foreign climes and jungles to bring home new specimens, which could mean not only instant social success, but also great wealth.

The new additions to gardens had an added benefit of also being an intellectual pursuit, which was transposed into a visual display, one English gentleman of the time relished in their relentless pursuit of the ‘antique’.

During the nineteenth century in England the garden would become a symbol of all that was good about family life led by not only the aristocracy, but also the now established country gentry who supported the ideals and vision of local lords and ladies.

Edwin Landseer, Windsor Castle in Modern Times, 1841-3, courtesy Royal Collection Trust, ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Edwin Landseer, Windsor Castle in Modern Times, 1841-3, courtesy Royal Collection Trust, ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

A wonderful portrait of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert painted by her favourite artist Edwin Landseer was commissioned only two months after their marriage in 1840. It depicts the young royal couple against a view of the East Terrace garden at Windsor Castle.

Kew Gardens opened to the public in 1840 and the Chinese Pagoda was one of its most popular attractions.

The active China Trade, which was now in full swing, meant merchants plying back and forth between both lands, bringing back silks, ceramics, furnishings as well as visions of the ideals of garden art created through Chinese art.

Kew Gardens Palm House

The main attraction at Kew, which had been popular since the century before, remained the Palm House with its displays of exotic and rare species of plants from all over the world. Visitors rose from 15,114 in 1844 to a massive 137,865 by 1849 when the great glasshouse was finally opened to the public.

View Welbeck Estate Humphry Repton (1752-1818)

View Welbeck Estate Humphry Repton (1752-1818)

It is with Humphry Repton that the landscape movement reached a pinnacle of picturesque. He was the improver par excellence.

‘Let us begin by defining what a garden is, and what it ought to be’, wrote Humphry Repton in his Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (published in 1803 in three volumes).

He entirely beguiled his clients with his sensational red books; his success directly attributed to an incredible ability to record prettily on paper his views on how a landscape garden should be designed.

They depicted your garden before and after the Repton treatment so you had a clear picture of what you were going to achieve.

Catherine Middleton's wedding bouquet contained a sprig of myrtle, from a bush planted by Queen Victoria on the Isle of Wight in 1845. Photo Credit: Ian West

Catherine Middleton’s wedding bouquet contained a sprig of myrtle, from a bush planted by Queen Victoria on the Isle of Wight in 1845. Photo Credit: Ian West

His views that gardens should complement the architecture of anything from a grand country house to a simple ‘cottage orneé’ led in its turn to the design of suburban gardens in the present day as a place of ‘pure enjoyment and delight’.

William Leighton Leitch’s 1855 watercolour of the Swiss Cottage orneé, created by Prince Albert for his children in the garden of Osborne House, reflects the informal and private existence enjoyed by the family on the Isle of Wight when in residence at Osborne.

Myrtle leaves and berries were sacred to the Goddess of Love Aphrodite and interestingly, stems from a myrtle were planted at Osborne House by Queen Victoria 1845.

A sprig from a Myrtle bush grown from a cutting of that piece of the plant was then used in The Queen’s wedding bouquet in 1947 and more recently also included in The Duchess of Cambridge’s bouquet for her wedding.

The bouquet drew upon the ongoing tradition of the language of flowers and included lily-of-the-valley, meaning a return to happiness.

It also included Sweet William for gallantry, the hyacinth for proving the constancy of love, the ivy fidelity and friendship, with the myrtle being for both marriage and love.

Workshop of Carl Faberge, Bleeding Heart, c.1900, courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Workshop of Carl Faberge, Bleeding Heart, c.1900, courtesy Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

During the nineteenth century Russian jewellery Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920), drawing on the fashion for flora of every type, celebrated art at every turn. Fabergé also created a superb head ornament mounted in gold and set in silver in the form of a wreath or myrtle at this time.

Many of his works are integral to The Royal Collection today and reveal how the crossover occurred with the art of gardens also becoming an important aspect of the decorative arts and the prevailing fashion for the beauty of plants and language of flowers.

Goldsmith and jeweller to the Russian Imperial Court and Principal crowned heads of Europe, Fabergé gave style and vigour to an interpretation of ancient themes and the symbolism associated with flowers.

The Royal Collection contains a superb Bleeding Heart c1900 made in Carl Fabergé ‘s workshop, which was carved in nephrite, rhodonite and quartzite.

The flowers are suspended from gold stems, so they can move gently, as if blown by the wind.

The exhibition Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden to be held in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace 20th March 2015 to 11th October 2014 records the garden’s development as a sanctuary; a place for scientific study or a superb space where humans and nature meet; an earthly paradise.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden

Queens GalleryQueen’s Gallery
Buckingham Palace, London

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