A garden represents many things to different people, especially artists, as demonstrated by An Earthly Paradise: Gardens in Art, the current exhibition at the Graves Gallery.
Through paintings and works on paper drawn from Sheffield’s Visual Art collection, it shows the diverse ways artists have captured gardens, whether humble backyards or grand public spaces.
“The garden is a uniquely personal space and a haven for many people, and it’s wonderful to explore the different ways artists have approached it in their work,” says Liz Waring, curator of visual art.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is Stanley Spencer’s Zacharias and Elizabeth which is back in Sheffield on display for the first time in nearly a decade.
A key example of Spencer’s work, the painting was jointly purchased in 1999 by the then Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust and the Tate where it has been on display.
Painted in 1913 it depicts the two figures from Luke’s Gospel with the angel Gabriel descending to announce the forthcoming birth of their son (the future John the Baptist). The setting is the garden of St George’s Lodge, an empty house owned by a wealthy neighbour of the artist.
This is an example of the religious and mythical gardens which fill one of the galleries while the other section of the exhibition comprises domestic and public gardens.
German artist Albrecht Dürer’s Adam and Eve is among those to invoke the original garden, likewise Trevor Stubley’s Holmfirth Adam and Eve which mixes in a contemporary setting.
Others with a spiritual and religious theme include Charles Fairfax Murray’s Madonna and Child with St Catherine in a Rose Garden with heavy symbols of white roses and enclosure suggesting virginity and chastity.
Then you have the idea of gardens stirring the imagination and emotions in Thomas Edwin Mostyn’s The Enchanted Garden whose setting is imaginary.
“The idea of the secret garden was picked up by artists after the publication of the children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911,” points out Liz Waring. Many explored the idea of gardens being a magical or mysterious place whether Leon Baksht’s sketches for a stage set or La Primavera from the Collection of the Guild of St George.
But then in Victorian times well-kept gardens were seen as a symbol of morality as in James Aumonier’s An English Cottage Home.
That takes us back to a section on the domestic garden which also includes James Jacques Joseph Tissot’s The Convalescent from the 1870s which was painted in the artist’s own garden in St John’s Wood, London, and featuring his ailing lover.
Evelyn Mary Dunbar’s painting The Garden from the Thirties shows the family home in Kent. From across the channel are Paul Cezanne’s painting, Bassin du Jas de Bouffan, France and Pierre Bonnard’s work on paper Le Jardin au Cannet.
Nearer home are Frank Constantine’s A Winter Garden, Brocco Bank, Sheffield, a view of a back garden on Wostenholm Road, and the Botanical Gardens depicted around the turn of the century by Isaac Shaw.
Then there are functional gardens used for food production such as Edward Stott’s A French Kitchen Garden from the 19th century.
An Earthly Paradise – Gardens in Art continues at Graves Gallery until July 1.