The Painted Garden: Ten Sublime Works

Throughout history, artists have found solace and inspiration in gardens around the world. Follow this picture gallery as we discover ten garden scenes beautifully captured on canvas by master painters around the world, from Bruehel the Younger in 17th century Netherlands to Le Mayeur in 20th Bali.

Jan Brueghel II (1601-1678) and Hendrick van Balen (1575-1632), The Madonna and Child Seated in a Garden with Putti, Birds and Animals, 1626-27

Jan Brueghel II (Antwerp 1601-78) and Hendrick van Balen (Antwerp 1575-1632), ‘The Madonna and Child seated in a Garden with Putti, Birds, and Animals’. The anonymous figures in this work was painted by the Antwerp-born artist Hendrick van Balen. Oil on panel. 32⅛ x 47¾ in (81.5 x 121.3 cm). Private collection.

This painting has been dated to 1626-27, just after Jan Brueghel II’s return from Italy following the unexpected death of his father, Jan Brueghel the Elder. The younger Brueghel chose to represent paradise as a garden of potted plants, with a fountain just visible in the background. His finely detailed flowers, leaves and fruits are testament to his skill as a painter of still life, as well as the 17th-century obsession with studying the natural sciences.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Woman with a Parasol in a Garden, 1875

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Woman with a Parasol in a Garden, 1875. Oil on canvas. 54.5 x 65 cm. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Photo: Bridgeman Images.

In Woman with a Parasol in a Garden, Pierre-Auguste Renoir brilliantly creates the impression of a summer garden by applying flicks of pale pink, yellow, red, blue and green paint using the end of a large brush. The scene he creates is a wild, verdant landscape filled with light, movement and texture.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (detail), 1885-86

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-86. Oil on canvas. 218.5 x 197 cm. Photo: © Tate.

Every evening for three months in 1885, the American artist John Singer Sargent would carefully arrange his models: 11-year-old Polly and seven-year-old Dolly, the daughters of an illustrator, in the gardens of Farnham House in Worcestershire, England. There, he would paint rapidly for two to three minutes to capture the light of the setting sun. The house belonged to the American artist F.D. Millet, with whom Sargent was staying.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Daubigny’s Garden, 1890

Vincent van Gogh, Daubigny’s Garden, June 1890. Oil on canvas, 50.7 x 50.7 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Photo: Bridgeman Images.

Two months before taking his own life, Vincent van Gogh relocated from an asylum in Provence to Auvers-sur-Oise, just outside Paris. ‘It is profoundly beautiful,’ he wrote to his brother Theo. ‘It is the real country, characteristic and picturesque.’ This result of that brief stay was this garden landscape, so-named because Auvers-sur-Oise was where one of van Gogh’s favourite artists, Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), had lived. A remarkable fact about this painting is that it was done with the barest of materials at hand – a red and white tea towel which van Gough covered with a thick pink layer of ground which can still be seen between his characteristic powerful, bold strokes.

John Leslie Breck (1860-1899) Garden, Ironbound Island, Maine, circa 1896

John Leslie Breck (1860-1899), Garden, Ironbound Island, Maine, painted circa 1896. Oil on canvas. 28½ x 48½ in (72.4 x 123.2 cm). Last auctioned for $1,447,500 on 22 November 2016 at Christie’s in New York.

An early American Impressionist, John Leslie Breck spent several years at Giverny in the inner circle of Claude Monet, who influenced both the subject matter and stylistic execution of his garden paintings.This garden belonged to a house owned by Margaret Blaney, the daughter of Breck’s fellow American Impressionist Dwight Blaney and is situated on a private island owned by the Blaneys in Maine, near Frenchman Bay. Monet’s influence is evident in Breck’s work although the distinctive New England landscape and vibrant palette bear the imprint of Breck’s brand of Impressionism.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Farm Garden with Sunflowers, 1905/06

Gustav Klimt, Farm Garden with Sunflowers, 1905-6. Oil on canvas, 110 x 110 cm. Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria. Photo: Artothek / Bridgeman Images

Farm Garden with Sunflowers  was painted during one of Gustav Klimt’s annual summer holidays at Lake Attersee, in the mountains outside Salzburg. It is thought that the unusual composition, with clusters of small flowers growing right the way up the canvas — higher, in fact, than the heads of the sunflowers — reflects the garden having been planted on a steep slope.

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, 1899

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, 1899. Oil on canvas, 92.7 x 73.7 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

In 1893, Monet, a passionate horticulturist, purchased a piece of land with a pond near his house in Giverny, intending to build something “for the pleasure of the eye and also for motifs to paint.” The result was his water-lily garden which he painted with great passion beginning from 1899. Monet painted a total of eighteen views of the wooden footbridge over the pond and completed twelve paintings that summer, including the present work. The vertical format of the picture, unusual in this series, gives prominence to the water lilies and their flickering reflections on the pond.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Garden Scene, circa early 1920s

Sir Winston Churchill, O.M., R.A. (1874-1965), Garden Scene, painted in the early 1920s. 29 x 24 in (73.6 x 61 cm). Private collection.

Depressed by the horrors of World War I, where his ill-planned Gallipoli strategy had cost him his job, Winston Churchill turned to painting as a means for solace. ‘[It] came to my rescue in a most trying time,’ he later wrote in his book, Painting as a Pastime.

Garden Scene was most likely painted in the grounds of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, which was at the time owned by Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton, a radical suffragette, who in 1909 had been sent to prison for throwing a stone at the Chancellor of the Exchequer Lloyd George’s car. Churchill the statesman clearly possessed a natural flair, working mostly en plein air around the British countryside. ‘Just to paint is great fun,’ he once remarked. ‘The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out.’ 

Adrien-Jean le Mayeur de Merprès (1880-1958),Women Around the Lotus Pond, 1950-51

Adrien-Jean le Mayeur de Merprès (1880-1958), Women Around the Lotus Pond, circa 1950-1951. Oil on canvas. 150 x 200 cm (59 x 78¾ in). Private collection.

In 1932, the Belgian artist Adrien-Jean le Mayeur de Merprès, 52, decided to settle in Bali. ‘There are three things in life that I love,’ he said. ‘Beauty, sunlight and silence. Now could you tell me where to find these in a more perfect state than in Bali?’ And thus began Le Mayeur’s love affair with the “Island of the Gods” that lasted for more than 25 years. Bali’s verdant gardens and its vibrant arts scene greatly inspired Le Mayeur whose paintings captured the varied landscape and people in jewel-like impressionistic details such as this work where he depicts a group of fifteen Balinese dancers parading around an ornamental pond decorated with Hindu carvings. The tropical oranges, reds and yellows cast a warm glow over their faces and bodies, just as the pink water of the pool reflects the sunlight streaming through the vines. 

Wu Guangzhong (1919-2010), The Charm of Lotus Pond, 2003

Wu Guangzhong (1919-2010), The Charm of Lotus Pond, 2003. Ink and color on paper. Private collection.

Wu Guangzhong (1919 -2010) is one of the leading lights in modern Chinese paintings. His work combines influences from east and west, with the former furnishing him with the classical themes of Chinese landscape and symbolism, and the later, the path-breaking ideas of the Impressionist and Abstract Expressionist movements. This fusion is evident in the Charm of Lotus Pond, a 2003 work that plays on the lotus as a symbol of purity and virtue In Chinese culture. Wu’s debt to Monet is palpable in this composition which is meticulous and brims with vitality and an exuberant symphony of color. Unlike Monet’s water lilies landscapes, however, Wu made the decisive choice of doing away with surrounding scenery so that the viewer’s focus is drawn to the lush thicket of lotus flowers and their leaves.

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