by Clare A.P.  Willsdon

Publisher: Thames & Hudson (2010)

ISBN 978-0500-288818

Paperback  £14.95

‘The moment you open the little door leading off the single main street in Giverny, you think . you are entering a paradise.’  So wrote Gustave Geffroy of his friend’s garden. The friend, of course, was Monet, whose garden is probably the most famous of artist’s gardens.

This book spreads much wider than Giverny, to the other gardens both their own and public spaces whose layout and character was created (or selected) and painted by the Impressionists. As with the artists, the main focus is on France but it also brings in the rest of Europe and the USA.

I found it a volume that can be read on several levels.  It looks like a beautiful coffee-table book. At the turn of every page each garden is illustrated by an Impressionist painting over 97 of them accompanied by a descriptive paragraph. The ‘Catalogue’ considers each picture in greater depth and includes details of the design and planting of the garden, although I would have preferred it if the full description had accompanied each illustration. The Foreword, Introduction and section introductions provide a history and background of Impressionist paintings of gardens, outside scenes and flowers; and the notes and bibliography lead to further research.

To the Impressionist painter, the garden was ‘a prime artistic laboratory, a place for dedicated investigation of the effects of colour, light and atmosphere on figures, flowers and plants.’ All of these elements are captured here by Dr Willsdon  (who was Guest Curator of the Impressionist Gardens exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland in 2010), leading the reader to understand how the Impressionists’ passion for gardens gave rise to some of the most significant paintings of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a book that will give pleasure to both gardening enthusiasts and art lovers. At just £14.95 I have already bought two copies to give as gifts.

Shirley Barnes