William Nicholson Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots  1920

William Nicholson
Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots

© Tate 2004

Gardens have seldom been simply places for relaxation and cultivation. Since antiquity they have been spaces for contemplation, the embodiment of poetical and philosophical ideas – particularly ideas of mortality. This has encouraged a range of symbolic objects, such as sundials, funerary urns, and fragments of antique statuary.

An important archetype for such contemplative spaces is the classical woodland grove. In this section the Arcadian image is encapsulated by the art of Ian Hamilton Finlay whose garden consciously evokes the tradition of classical garden culture.

Photographs also feature prominently in this section. Photography is a potent means of making images about time and time passing. Indeed, many of the photos shown here reveal the ultimate fate of every garden, subject to the irresistible forces of decay and eventual obliteration.

Featured works

William Nicholson Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots  1920

In 1920 William Nicholson was commissioned to paint a portrait of the gardener Gertrude Jekyll. She didn’t relish the prospect, and only agreed ‘after a good show of resistance as I think ugly people had better not be painted’.

While he waited for Jekyll, Nicholson occupied himself making this study of her gardening boots. He perhaps had in mind Van Gogh’s paintings of boots and other personal objects which stand in for a person. In many ways it sums up her character better than the final portrait. Jekyll’s boots are now in Godalming Museum, along with other Jekyll memorabilia.