Elevated views of landscape, known as ‘prospects’, have been part of British art since the early eighteenth century. They contributed to the idea of Britain as a nation for which the garden was a defining form of cultural identity.
As the works in the first section reveal, the prospect tradition has been continually revitalised since the nineteenth century. During that time, garden ownership or access has extended to the majority of the British population. The focus here is on gardens made by professionals, particularly professional artists.
Two thresholds are particularly important in these prospective views: fences and windows. Fencing defines the shape and extent of a garden; it is a major feature and structural device in many of these pictures. Windows create a particular field of vision, but they also divide the inside from the outside. They came to symbolise the division between private and public, between the inner self and society.
Spencer Gore The Fig Tree 1912
Gore painted gardens in and around the various houses he lived in. This is one of a series of views from the upstairs flat at 2 Houghton Place, off Mornington Crescent in Camden Town, which he rented after his marriage. Its high vantage point echoes the views Gore painted from theatre balconies.
We look down onto a lone female figure, perhaps Gore’s new wife, by the high wall. The fig tree of the title spreads from a neighbouring garden in a spectacular display. Fig trees have powerful religious associations, primarily as the tree in the Garden of Eden.
John Constable Golding Constable’s Flower Garden 1815
This is one of a pair of views from Constable’s family home in East Bergholt, Suffolk. It stretches from the flower gardens, across cornfields and pastures, to the family windmill on the horizon. It is late summer and the landscape is in a state of high cultivation.
The flower garden was tastefully managed by Constable’s mother, Ann. She died after working in the garden the previous spring. Constable’s brother said her fever was brought on ‘by the cold, which was very severe, & stooping to weed’. The garden blooming on this late summer evening, a shadow cast across its lawn, proves a poignant memory of Constable’s mother and her passing.