“Bards of passion and of mirth,
Ye have left your souls on earth!…
Seated on Elysian lawns
Brows’d by none but Dian’s fawns;
Underneath large blue-bells tented,
Where the daisies are rose-scented,
And the rose herself has got
Perfume which on earth is not;”
– Bards of Passion and of Mirth by John Keats.
Nature has often nurtured the artist and vice versa. From poets to visual artists – landscapes, gardens and nature itself have inspired and cradled them to create something beautiful when all else might have seemed lost. Artists specifically have found sanctuary in gardens near or around them resulting in some of the most beautiful paintings in art history. Without further ado, let’s step into some famous gardens in art and the stories behind them.
Visit the national capital, Delhi and you can get lost amidst any one of her mystical medieval Mughal gardens. Dotted across Northern India, a stroll around ANY medieval monument will tell you how integral a garden was to Mughal architecture.
The Charbagh – inspired by paradisiacal lawns, is Keat’s “Elysian lawn” come to life. Meant to be a reminder of “paradise” it was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Babur and his successors as respite from Hindustan’s dry and dusty weather. Indo-Persian in origin, the layout, as its name suggests, is quadrilateral (char) based on the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in the Quran. The symmetry, intricacy and architectural finesse of this 17th–18th century gardening marvel is unparalleled even today and has deservedly been the subject of many miniature paintings from the time.
The Artist’s Garden at Giverny
A garden every art lover knows “all too well” but one that is the epitome of mindful artistic nurturing. If the garden at Giverny looks effortless today it is because of Claude Monet’s careful eye.
“Monet is only an eye, but my God, what an eye!”
– Paul Cezanne.
It is said that Monet spent his youth travelling from town to town along the River Seine and planted flowers wherever he lived. As dreamy as that sounds, the reason behind it is bittersweet because the flowers are said to have accompanied him during times of emotional toil, artistic frustration, and financial hardship.
In 1883 he found a home in Giverny and painstakingly began the work of reconstructing a garden to his taste. His favourite annual flowers? Poppies, sunflowers, and nasturtiums. During spring he was found planting daffodil bulbs, primroses and willowherbs. A sustained friendship with fellow Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte also grew around his love for gardening as they often exchanged cuttings, bulbs and perhaps even gardening secrets! The French garden slowly acquired an English style as Monet began covering every inch of the garden bed with foliage. As art evolves, so does an artist’s garden, right?
Farm Garden With Sunflowers
Deeply inspired by Vincent Van Gogh (whom we will soon speak of), this artwork painted by Gustav Klimt in 1913 is perhaps an ode to his inspiration. Klimt uses bold, luminous colours like Van Gogh in his later phase, to let the viewer know that this work has been painted with great precision, detail and devotion.
Whether it was ,The Tree of Life or Farm Garden With Sunflowers, Klimt chose close-ups from nature in his landscape paintings which allowed him to “translate the spatial depth onto a 2D surface”.
This particular painting is said to be of a rural flower garden on the shore of the Attersea where Klimt stayed during the summer.
To think that the pathbreaking Surrealist Joan Miro had a tough time finding a buyer for his artwork is baffling today, but it did happen early on in 1920s Paris. The fiercely independent Spanish artist lived a quiet life and this particular artwork considered “one of his best” is in his own words inspired by the artist’s masia or “family farm”.
“The Farm was a résumé of my entire life in the country. I wanted to put everything I loved about the country into that canvas – from a huge tree to a tiny snail.”
– Joan Miro.
Despite finding it difficult to sell his Surrealist artwork in a cubist obsessed Paris at the time, Miro soon found a friend in popular American novelist, Ernest Hemingway who eventually bought the painting.
It is said that Hemingway was so determined to buy The Farm that he borrowed money and worked as a grocery clerk until he was able to purchase it and kept it throughout his life. He further said, “I would not trade it for any picture in the world. It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Vincent van Gogh, an artist whose sensitivity and work need no introduction, produced his final painting series inspired by the French landscape painter, Charles-Francois Daubigny’s garden.
Ten days before the artist tragically shot himself in the chest, Vincent Van Gogh presented his just-completed artwork to the widow of Daubigny in the summer of 1890. The paintings of Daubigny’s Garden are vivid and filled with early-summer flowers and grass.
A moving timeline of this artwork reveals how it was created after Van Gogh’s discharge from the asylum near St.Remy-de-Provence where he voluntarily checked himself in after suffering intensely from acute mental and physical health conditions. His penchant for using bright colours began during this most tumultuous time in the South of France and continued even after his treatment at Provence when he felt that his future was bright.
While looking for a tranquil place to paint close to his brother Theo in Paris, Van Gogh chose Auvers – perhaps even for its connection to Daubigny. As soon as he arrived all he could think of was painting Daubigny’s garden. Despite travails, we too remember his work as he remembered Daubigny, “…a work that is good may not last forever, but the thought expressed by it will, and the work itself will surely survive for a very long time, and those who come later can do no more than follow in the footsteps of such predecessors and copy their example”.