French Impressionist painting and English planting design

monet_artist_gardenChristine’s question about the influence of French Impressionist painting on the art of garden design has set me thinking. Since writing an essay about Gertrude Jekyll, at college in 1969, I have argued that the painter who most influenced Gertrude Jekyll’s style of planting design was J M W Turner. I still think this is correct but the following comment from Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden has been extremely influential. Jekyll wrote that planting design  is ‘like having a box of paints from the best colourman, or, to go one step further, it is like having portions of these paints set out upon a palette.’ Once you start thinking about plants as ‘a palette’ of colours, you are on the high road to English Impressionist Planting Design. Monet’s own garden at Giverny was not planted impressionistically but his paintings of the garden are in an impressionist style and, curiously, photographs of the Water Lily Pond at Giverny also have an impressionist character.

7 thoughts on “French Impressionist painting and English planting design

  1. Christine

    I noticed an intriguing book by ‘Impressionist Garden’ by Derek Fell. In it the compositional technique of Monet’s garden is compared to musical composition;

    “One visiting French journalist described the garden in 1904 as ‘divided into tidy squares like any market garden…substitute flowers for carrots and lettuce, in rows just as close together, and you can work wonders – if you know how to play the floral keyboard and are a great colourist.
    It is this profusion, this teeming aspect that gives the garden a special quality.”

  2. Christine

    I am not sure about this. My mistake was to read music ‘composition’ when in fact the simile was to music ‘practice’. Another abidding interest of mine is Opera singing which is based on vocal performance. The Coloratura voice expresses particular performance qualities…[]

    Perhaps it was this type of interpretative performance the writer was speaking of? The garden structure was given: but there was much room for interpretation and expressiveness in the plantings themselves? Could it have been this performance element, rather than a fundamental change of garden structure that made the difference? Maybe this creative freedom with the planting lead to what we now recognise as the ‘Impressionist Garden’?

    This does not of course discount the liquid music analogy in garden composition. Would be interesting to understand the difference between the frozen compositional state and the liquid compositional state!

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    I am not a ‘musical person’ but I once read that music is ‘all about space’ and this suggests a conceptual comparison with 3d spatial design. I’d like to know more about this analogy.

  4. Christine

    Some interesting musings on the dilemma of creating automatic and interactive music. Palle Dahlstedt discusses musical space among other aspects of musical composition. []
    The second link is to a book review of Landscapes in Music: Space, Place and Time in the World’s Great Music. Rather than strictly discussing the internal composition of music in terms of spatial notation etc the book looks at the impact of physical space, place and time (geography) on the creation of musical landscapes; as well as the transposition of physical landscapes into musical form.


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