Arthur Hughes, ‘April Love’ 1855–6
Arthur Hughes
April Love 1855–6

‘The sun shone down for nearly a week on the secret garden. The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in, no one knew where she was.’

Since its publication in 1911, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden has spread the idea of the garden as a realm of innocence and enchantment.

The second section of the exhibition examines the emotional attachment of the artist to the garden, through themes such as children’s art, seclusion, spirituality and sexuality. It explores not only innocent pleasures but also the more painful thoughts and memories that gardens can evoke.

It also focuses on the continuing role of the garden as a metaphor for femininity. This has developed both through the classical tradition and the Christian identification of the enclosed garden, or ‘hortus conclusus’, with the Blessed Virgin.

Featured works

Arthur Hughes April Love 1855-6

Arthur Hughes apparently painted at least some of this picture in a garden in Maidstone, Kent, according to ‘strict Pre-Raphaelite principles’. But the composition was almost certainly worked up in his London studio.

His subject is the transience of young love, indicated by the discarded rose petals at the woman’s feet. The ivy, a symbol of immortality, provides hope of salvation and deliverance. The woman’s situation within the arbour consciously draws on the tradition of the ‘hortus conclusus’: the enclosed garden as a symbol of the Immaculate Conception, and more generally of female virginity.

Albert Moore A Garden 1869

The title refers to the physical space in which the figure stands, but also to the woman herself, who is an embodiment of the garden.

Moore’s art is invariably considered in relation to the Aesthetic Movement, where colour, form and composition were deemed to be the artist’s supreme concern. Even so, many of his classically-draped figures celebrate the sensuousness of the female form, allied to the imagery of the garden. Indeed, the words he used to describe them - A Garden, Azaleas, Apricots, Blossoms - highlight the importance of horticultural metaphor in his art.

David Inshaw The Badminton Game  1972-3

This painting was inspired by Inshaw’s appreciation of the landscape around Devizes in Wiltshire, where he had moved in 1971.

Inshaw was at the time in love with both of the women who modelled for the figures. He wanted the picture to express his emotional state. ‘I wanted to pin down a moment, make it go on living, I wanted to be particular and yet general. I wanted to be excessive and yet modest. I wanted the picture to contain all my feelings and thoughts, happy thoughts as well as sad, full of waking dreams and erotic fantasies.’