Come out into the garden! This year’s major exhibition is about how mythical and real gardens have been depicted in art, but also about how art has left its mark on gardens, from the Middle Ages until today. See more than 300 objects – paintings, drawings, applied art and sculpture –by artists such as Rembrandt, Watteau, Le Nôtre, Monet, Renoir, Carl Larsson and by contemporaries such as Peter Frie and Emma Helle.
The garden – a status symbol
We humans have always been fascinated by gardens. They have served as parade grounds at royal castles and mansions by those in power. Being able to present exotic plants in the garden was almost as important as building an extensive collection of naturalia, artificialia and scientifica. Pavilions and boathouses were built, labyrinths and ruins were designed, and sculptures, fountains, urns and furniture were placed to create a holistic experience where the visitor could meet nature in a structured fashion. The theory of garden art and garden literature also saw the light of day.
Fruit and vegetables as motifs and food
Garden views became a natural motif for artists. Even individual flowers, fruits and other plants that aroused pride and admiration, such as pumpkins, asparagus, lemon or pineapple, could, for example, end up on the artist’s canvas. But gardens have also been important from an everyday perspective. Being able to grow carrots and potatoes or herbs has contributed to people’s well-being in a very tangible way.
A place for utility and dreaming
Today, in an increasingly worrying global context, the garden once again has a great role to play, both in terms of its utility and as a place for dreaming. A garden is just as much a physical place as it is part of our imaginary world.
An exhibition for all the senses
This exhibition shows how gardens have inspired us throughout the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present day and how gardens can really appeal to all our senses. The exhibition features more than 300 objects – paintings, drawings, applied art and sculpture – most of them from the Swedish National Museum’s collections. Among the artists are names such as Rembrandt, Watteau, Le Nôtre, Monet, Renoir and Carl Larsson. Peter Frie and Emma Helle are invited to contribute contemporary commentary to the garden.
A garden is multi-facetted; it encompasses art and nature, benefit and pleasure. Sometimes the presence of art has been stronger, while at other times the nature-like has had a greater influence. As an artform, a garden uses living materials, which include nature itself and the changing of the seasons. Its character is thus dynamic. A garden is part of the natural cycle, it is transformed, decays and renews.
However, a garden, where it is artistic or useful, is not the same as nature. It has always been deliberately formed, using an idea and a plan. Ultimately, a garden can be regarded as the desire to recreate Paradise. The Mediaeval walled garden, the hortus conclusus, was an expression of this. The artistically terraced gardens of the Italian Renaissance and their wealth of water features, like the pleasure gardens of the French Baroque, can be interpreted as a longing to restore what was lost in the biblical Fall. On the drawing board, God’s creation would reappear with the help of a ruler and compasses.
In the eighteenth century, when people began to realise they could be a threat to nature, a complete revaluation took place. Virgin nature, not yet exploited by humans, instead became the ideal. The artificial character and doll-house scales were seen to be so comic that, soon after 1800, art and nature moved in different directions, a difference that has endured.
However, many questions about humanity’s relationship with nature and art have remained or reappeared. This is extremely evident in contemporary art, in which both Paradise and threats to the natural world are present.
The relationship between art and nature is central to the exhibition. The introductory section, devoted to the myth of Paradise, will occupy a large gallery of its own, lined with cabinets containing the various natural elements as reflected in the artworks. Similarly, the artificial garden will form the focus of the second large gallery, covering the period from the Renaissance to the present day. This gallery will be surrounded by smaller exhibition rooms featuring individual design forms ranging from caves to ruins. At the centre of all this, there will be a section covering the human presence in the garden.
As an example of contemporary interpretations, we have invited the artist Peter Frie to take part in the exhibition. Known as a painter of dreamlike landscapes, Frie has created a series of bronze sculptures of trees, having progressed from painting to a three-dimensional format. Trees of various sizes will be presented as an installation in dialogue with the historical material on landscape and gardens. Emma Helle, another contemporary artist invited to take part, works in ceramics and draws inspiration from sources such as classical mythology. Her decorative and colourful, almost baroque works take us on a fanciful journey through the history of myth and literature. Helle is also creating two new works especially for Nationalmuseum’s exhibition as a commentary on the theme of Paradise.
A comprehensive catalogue will be published for the exhibition. With just over 300 pages, as many pictures and many interesting articles, it is given reading for both art and garden enthusiasts.
Lectures: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Gardens
Two lectures in cooperation with Färgfabriken art gallery. Martin Olin lectures on Grazing animals – biodiversity or beauty? Nico Carpentier gives a lecture on Power and Gardens: A reflection on the taming of nature. Both lectures are in English.