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Come into The Enchanted Garden

The British have always loved gardens, and The Enchanted Garden exhibition at Newcastle's Laing Gallery brings together a wealth of images from classic Greek gardens to the nostalgic Flower Fairies illustrations by Cecily Mary Barker

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon (1864). Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

This exhibition at Newcastle’s Laing Gallery examines the seemingly simple trope of how artists have used the garden space to examine different aspects of life. Looking at the 90 paintings, drawings and books curated by Amy Barker it becomes clear that this is not as straightforward a theme as it might seem.

There are some big hitters from the art world represented here, such as Lucien Pissarro, Claude Monet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Stanley Spencer, William Morris, Francis Bacon and Beatrix Potter. Works are on loan from museums and galleries around the UK, including The National Gallery, Tate, National Museums Northern Ireland, Fitzwilliam Museum and The William Morris Gallery.

In the Spring by Harold Knight is a charming study of an Edwardian man and a woman enjoying tea under the shade of a blossoming tree. Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

The garden journey starts with nostalgia, and the love affair that the British have with their gardens. Charles Robertson’s illustrations of The Secret Garden; Gertrude Jekyll is referenced, as are Cecily Mary Barker’s charming flower fairies. An examination of the enclosed magic of the garden space by artist Edward Burne–Jones and the Laing Gallery’s own Thomas Armstrong painting, Women with Lilies 1876, prove the point of fantasy within known confines. A highlight in this section is Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon, 1864.

Water-Lilies, Setting Sun by Claude Monet (1907). Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

The viewer is constantly being challenged as to what a garden really is. Is it a place of refuge, fantasy or a canvas for history? The unusual Water-Lilies, Setting Sun 1907 by Monet is a case in point. Have we not all seen so many water lily paintings by Monet that it has become a cliché? Here we see the familiar subject matter of the flowers in his garden, but in a totally different light. It is a darker and far more mysterious depiction.

The Dustman (Lovers) by Stanley Spencer. Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

Figures in a Garden by Francis Bacon (c1935). Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

Pre-Raphaelite works, as well as Stanley Spencer’s Lover or The Dustman (Lovers), are shown juxtaposed with The Betrayal also by Spencer, were great highlights for me. Contrast this with one of Francis Bacon’s earlier works (most were destroyed by the painter, so this is rare), which contains the hallmarks of later work, distorted figures on the cusp of grotesque but still abstraction, and you have an idea of the variety and glee with which this exhibition has been assembled.


The Enchanted Garden

Laing Gallery, Newcastle

Until 7 October 2018

(then at The William Morris Gallery, London E17, from 19 October - 17 January 2019)

For more information, CLICK HERE


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