John Singer Sargent, ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’ 1885–6
John Singer Sargent
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885–6

Painting and gardening both involve working with colour. Gardens have been seen as living pictures, while painters have tried to capture the ephemeral harmonies created by flowers.

Many late nineteenth century painters took flower gardens as their subjects. Such pictures went out of fashion after 1914, as lavish Edwardian gardens could no longer be maintained. But the effect of changing light on colour continued to interest painters who used gardens not as subject matter, but as a means of exploring colour, shape and light.

Included in this part of the exhibition is a floorpiece by Anya Gallaccio, made from 10,000 cut roses. Gallaccio’s work emphasises the inherent instability of colour relationships. Paintings might seem more permanent than gardens, but the analogy between petals and pigments focuses our attention on the fragile nature of the expressive materials of both painting and gardening.

Featured works

John Singer Sargent Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose  1885-6

Sargent began this painting in the garden of Farnham House in the Cotswold village of Broadway. He worked on it for about twelve weeks, from August to November 1885, painting for only a few minutes each day when the light conditions were exactly right.

Sargent hit on his subject very late in the season, so the ‘garden’ was a hastily contrived affair: he complained that ‘my garden is a morass, my rose trees black weeds with flowers tied on from a friend’s hat’. He continued work on the painting the following September, in the more carefully-prepared garden of nearby Russell House.