At lunchtime, we had a lecture in which I learned much that I didn’t know about Monet: that he tricked the authorities into allowing him to construct a large lily pond by pretending that it was going to be a swimming pool; and that he had a state funeral in which Clemenceau whipped the black awning off his coffin outside the Madeleine on the grounds that black was an inappropriate colour for him. Then tonight I went to what may be a last visit to Painting the Modern Garden. The party included at least two ardent and knowledgeable horticulturalists, so the discussion was not so much about the quality of the art as the particular species of rose depicted, the extent of the influence of Gertrude Jekyll, and the glories of Emil Nolde’s garden in Seebüll, in Schleswig-Holstein just south of the German border. I found it curiously refreshing – and in the spirit of the exhibition – to look at Monet not for his handling of paint, but how accurately he painted lilies.
I have been watching Painting the Modern Garden be installed, not an easy process, with more garden benches than usual. The designer is Robert Carsen, the Canadian opera director, who has also done quite a number of exhibition designs, including L’Impressionisme et la Mode at the Musée d’Orsay and Bohèmes at the Grand Palais. This morning was the press view when Ann Dumas and Bill Robinson from the Cleveland Museum of Art, the two curators, walked us round and revealed the full glory of the exhibition: not just Monet himself, as passionate a horticulturalist as he was a painter, settling in Giverny, getting up at 4 in the morning to contemplate his lily pond, but also so many of the other artists of the era, including Sargent, Matisse and Klimt, all of them in different ways fascinated and passionate about the look of flowers and their cultivation.