Illustrated companion

At the beginning of his career Albert Moore painted Biblical subjects influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. In about 1865 however, the influence of classical art and particularly the Elgin Marbles became dominant and he began to paint the carefully composed, beau tifully coloured, completely subjectless pictures for which he is known.

'A Garden' belongs to the first group of major paintings of full-length, classically draped figures with which Moore established his mature style in the late 1860s. His development of such an extraordinarily purely decorative and mood evoking art was certainly stimulated by his friendship at this time with Whistler. Moore introduced Whistler to classical art, but Whistler in turn introduced Moore to Japanese prints, with their emphasis on surface pattern and distinct areas of clear colour.

The colours of 'A Garden' are astonishingly fresh, and the painting is remarkable even in Moore's own work for the single-mindedness with which, by turning the figure away from the spectator, he has treated it simply as a peg on which to hang his colours and surface effects. This aspect of Moore was well summed up by the critic Sidney Colvin who described Moore's 'habit, right or wrong, of making the decorative aspect of his canvas, regarded as an arrangement of beautiful lines and refreshing colours, the one important matter in his work. The subject, whatever subject is chosen, is merely a mechanism for getting beautiful people into beautiful situations.' The poet Swinburne, who with Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde and Whistler, was a leading promoter in England of the French doctrine of 'l'art pour l'art', art for art's sake, reviewed Moore at the 1868 Academy exhibition, the year before he painted 'A Garden': Moore's paintings, Swinburne wrote, are 'the faultless and secure expression of an exclusive worship of things formally beautiful ... their reason for being is simply to be.'

Moore was extremely methodical as a painter and the formal perfection of his paintings is the result of an elaborate process of conception and execution.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.95