A garden can be a place of both nature and design; a meeting point and an escape; a throwback to the innocence of Eden or a refined feature of modern civilisation. It’s also a longstanding subject in art. We spoke to Vanessa Remington, the curator of ‘Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden’, which draws on items from the Royal Collection to explore the motif in its many forms.
Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?
‘Painting Paradise’ will explore the ways in which the garden has been celebrated in art through a display of over 150 paintings, drawings, books, manuscripts and decorative arts from the Royal Collection. Through spectacular paintings of royal landscapes, jewel-like manuscripts and delicate botanical studies, it will reveal the changing character of the garden and its enduring appeal for artists.
How did you come to curate this show?
I love gardens and am fascinated by what garden art can tell us, not just about the beauty of gardens themselves, but about the preoccupations and interests of previous generations.
What’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?
It has been very satisfying to watch the conservation in progress of a large painting which shows a really important 17th-century formal garden in Cleves. The garden is little known today, but was so impressive in its time that a rare set of garden portraits was commissioned to show it in all its glory.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?
The variety of objects on display ranges from huge 17th-century tapestries to exquisite jewelled works of art by Carl Fabergé. We have worked hard to create a setting that will complement all the varied items on display, and also create the ambience of a garden for the visitor.
What makes this a distinctive show?
This is the first major exhibition on the art of the garden, and it offers a beautiful and colourful insight into the many ways in which the garden has featured in art over four centuries, through works of art in the Royal Collection.
What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?
One of the most dramatic paintings will be the spectacular, bird’s-eye view of the gardens at Hampton Court Palace, painted by Leonard Knyff, c. 1703. It shows how kings used their gardens to symbolise their power and status, re-modelling the landscape on a previously unimaginable scale.
How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the hang/installation pose?
We will be aiming to recreate the ambience of a garden within the exhibition space. The sheer variety of works on display – from paintings and manuscripts to tapestries and sculpture, and even the occasional tulip vase – means that there is a lot to consider in the installation process.
Which other works would you have liked to have included?
As we want to give people the feeling of being in a garden, it would be lovely to have real plants – but of course for many reasons that’s not possible! But we have exciting plans in place to create the ambience in other ways.
‘Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden’ is at The Queen’s Gallery, London, from 20 March–11 October.