It was tough to pass up a chance to take in some of the works by the Impressionists, stare and magnificent flowers, and eat a slap-up two-course meal at Le Caprice. So I didn’t. They’re running a superb offer alongside the current Royal Academy exhibition ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse‘. For £38, you can see the show, sip a glass of Perrier Jouet, eat a two-course meal, and whoop when you get a surprise gift bag from Floris (subject to availability).
Having already collected our tickets, we skipped past the long queue and headed upstairs to the gallery.
Using the work of Claude Monet as a starting point, the exhibition examines the role gardens played in art from the early 1860’s through to the twenties. It documents a period of social change and innovation and includes the work of Impressionist, Post- Impressionist and Avant-Garde artists of the early twentieth century.
But it’s not just Monet and Renoir who loved painting flowers and the work of Cezanne, Pissarro, Manet, Sargent, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Matisse, Klimt and Klee are all on show. It’s no wonder that at 11 am there’s only wiggle room. I saw a few of the great works on show but my audio guide told me that there are more than 120, half of which I’m sure I didn’t see. There was no real natural flow, certainly that anyone was following, so made it difficult for me to enjoy.
The first weekend was in late January and our visit is mid-February, so the popularity isn’t waning.
Highlights for me include:
‘Flower Garden’. Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt is better known maybe for his primary subject of the female body and his frank eroticism. A riot of colour in a pyramid structure, the eye is drawn to the white chrysanthemums and petunias, as if magnetic, being pulled out of the ground and indeed out of the frame.
‘Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots‘ is a painting by Sir William Nicholson. It was a gift for the architect Edwin Lutyens who worked closely with Gertrude Jekyll, the gardener. It’s a simple yet evocative painting of her boots and the only painting in the exhibition that proves keeping a garden takes hard work and dedication. The boots are tired and made of leather, the left boot is losing a sole, and the right has a gaping hole where the sole has lost its grip on the leather completely.
Camille Pissarro’s ‘Kitchen Gardens at L’Hermitage, Pontoise‘ is an autumnal scene of crops in a market garden. A man in the background plows a field while two women pick vegetables. There’s nothing contrived about this garden. It has a job to do, and that’s to grow food and feed the people tending the land. Anything that’s picked and not needed is taken to market by the waiting donkey. Contemporary writers mocked Pissarro’s “deplorable fondness for market gardens” and referred to him as an “Impressionist market gardener specialising in cabbages”. Harsh.
Joaquin Sorolla’s work isn’t widely known outside of his native Spain. It’s his portrait of ‘Louis Comfort Tiffany‘ the artist and designer known for his stained glass lamps, which grabbed me. Tiffany wears a white three-piece suit, with a yellow pansy in his lapel, and is surrounded by rhododendrons in an explosion of purple, pink, white and yellow. He sits in a very relaxed way with his easel and paints, and it looks like he’s comfortable in his surroundings and his conversation with Sorolla. Painted in the garden of the subject’s grand country estate in Oyster Bay on Long Island, a small yacht bobs in the background and Tiffany is joined by his best friend, his dog ‘Funny’.
Gustave Caillebotte was a lifelong gardener, but his interest in the subject of floral still life doesn’t come about until the 1880s. I particularly love his still life of food which includes ‘Calf In A Butcher’s Shop’ and ‘Langouste à la Parisienne’. This man wasn’t a poor artist, in fact, he bought most of the works of his Impressionist contemporaries, and most of his work stayed with him and was passed down through his family. He stopped exhibiting at 34 and it wasn’t until after his death, twelve years later, that a retrospective of his works, organised. In the 1950’s his family started to sell his work and Museums bought big. It took one hundred years for Caillebotte to become a star. Like most of the artists on show, he cultivated flowers to paint and his Garden at Petit-Gennevilliers, a small town on the river, north-west of Paris, is the subject of one such show-stopper. Dahlias: The Garden at Petit-Genevilliers bursts full of colour but is also a nod to his vast knowledge of horticulture. The domed building in the background is a large greenhouse, rarely seen outside of botanical seats of learning, and used to cultivate the plants he intends to bed and then paint. His love of dahlias, which were hugely popular in France at the time, included imported and cultivated Cactus Dahlias from Mexico.
Monet’s loose and informal planting was inspired by many garden designers including Jekyll and Robinson. Then there’s paintings of his waterlily garden which was Asian and Oriental filled with bamboo and weeping willows. His paintings are not only a record of his artistic talent but a record of the work of a gardener with an exhaustive knowledge of plants and horticulture. As you wend your way to the exit you’re blown away by a three-part panorama of water lilies his Agapanthus Triptych – just water, flowers, light and reflections – reunited for this exhibition. He said that his garden at Giverny was his greatest work of art. Now I’m desperate to visit.
As we leave, the heavens open and thankfully Le Caprice is just a few minutes away on foot, sadly though we won’t be enjoying our lunch on their exclusive Perrier-Jouët ‘Modern Mayfair Garden’ terrace.
At 1.30pm, the restaurant is buzzing, helped by a pianist playing upbeat classics.
We are given the set menu and make our choice; there are three starters, mains and desserts, and soon the champagne follows.
A basket of white and brown bread arrives with unsalted butter-to-die-for.
I choose the moules which are spectacularly good with a shallot and wild garlic sauce.
Mr has the ham hock & dandelion salad with puy lentil dressing which is another winner.
With the champagne gone, we have a glass of wine each.
I have the salmon fishcake, sautéed spinach, served with a sorrel sauce. It’s a thick round patty full of salmon and seasoned potato. Just the right amount of sauce-to-fishcake ratio and we share a bowl of salted string fries.
Mr’s generous chicken breast is moist with a char-grilled skin. Kale and matchstick cut apple form the salad with toasted pecans, drizzled with a honey mustard dressing.
The starter and main course were plenty; an additional dessert course is available from the a la carte menu.
A 12.5% service charge and cover charge £2pp, are added to the bill.
We head back out into the rain; I see they’re running another deal for the Vogue exhibition so I’ll return with the gals for that one.
Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD
Le Caprice, Arlington Street, London SW1A 1RJ