Monet to Matisse

September 7, 2015
Monet to Matisse

Cleveland Museum of Art Exhibits Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

Lexi Hotchkiss

An art display devoted to gardens might sound like something the little old lady who manages the flower show for the local garden club would be interested in.

But if we mentioned it's an international art exhibition featuring more than 103 historical masterpieces and highlighted by the work of Claude Monet, would that change anything?

Uh-huh. We thought so.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world, is teaming up with Royal Academy of Arts in London for a once-in-lifetime international art exhibition called Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse. The exhibition, which only makes its one U.S. stop here in Cleveland, runs Oct. 11, 2015 - Jan. 5, 2016.


The Cleveland Museum of Art owns one of three pieces that complete Monet's famed triptych "Water Lilies." And, when the museum set out to do an exhibition centered on displaying the full triptych, they started to put together something with much more breadth: Gardens.

"Monet is arguably the greatest garden painter in history. Wherever he lived, he tended a garden," William Robinson, curator of modern European art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, said.

As it turns out, Monet was beyond green thumb status. The artist often consulted with the world's leading horticulturists, directed a staff of six gardeners including one he recruited from Japan, imported exotic plants from all over the world, experimented with heating systems and built greenhouses to grow seedlings.

"Other artists in Monet's circle were also avid gardeners," Robinson adds.

Artists like Paul Cezanne, Paul Gaugin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, James Tissot, James Singer Sargent, Santiago Rusiñol and Joaquín Sorolla were all influenced by Monet's work.

"But, Monet is absolutely the centerpiece of the exhibition because gardens were so important to him," Robinson said. "In fact, Monet was said to have once said, ‘I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.'"


The exhibition features 103 paintings by 25 artists displayed in six sections that guide visitors through a progressive exploration of the garden painting subject.

Section I: Impressionist Gardens

This section explores the theme of gardens in the paintings of Monet and the French Impressionists. It visually demonstrates how his love of gardening improved his ability to paint the natural world.

Section II: Monet's Early Years at Giverny

"This section is devoted to when Monet acquired his Giverny property," Robinson said. "Here, he first develops a land garden in the front of his house. Then, he rearranges and replants it to his liking. It's a total esthetic experience.  He even alters the color of his house to be more harmonious with the garden."

Section III: International Gardens

Within this section, visitors can examine how artists throughout Europe and America were interpreting the increased popularity in personal pleasure gardening during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Section IV: Gardens of Reverie and Imagination

"This section focuses on the Post-Impressionists and Symbolists. It's very interesting," said Robinson. "They sometimes create gardens that they imagine or that have been evoked from an emotional reaction. It's beyond realism. It's a modernist interpretation of the garden."

Section V: Gardens of the Avant-Garde

The Avant-Garde artists highlighted within this section use the garden as a subject for experienting with color and abstraction. The result are gardens intepreted in a variety of imaginative ways.

Section VI: Gardens of War and Regeneration

"This is the most intriguing section to me.  These pieces highlight gardens that were painted during and after the First World War," Robinson said. "Artists were using gardens as comfort during the war. Then, they change the emotional tone of their paintings after the war."


Without a doubt, laying eyes on the complete Water Lilies triptych is bucket list experience. But the entire room devoted to water gardens will be a stunning attraction to visitors, Robinson notes.

"People have seen exhibitions of the water gardens before. But, they've never seen them in the context of Kandinsky and German impressionists or Monet's British and Spanish colleagues," he said.

Other popular pieces highlighted throughout the exhibition include Renoir's renowned Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil. There'll also be an intriguing painting by Manet called The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, which is the only painting showing Monet actively gardening.

Robinson also believes visitors will be surprised to see Matisse's art, which is widely recognized for its innovative color compositions. Through various letters and writings, Robinson was able to uncover that so much of this unique style was the result of Matisse's ability to study the vivid colors of his gardened flowers.


Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse runs Oct. 11, 2015 - Jan. 5, 2016 at the Cleveland Museum of Art in University Circle. While admission to the museum's permanent collection is always free, admission for this special exhibition is $18. All tickets will be associated with a specific time slot. To learn more, visit

For more on arts and culture in Cleveland like events, attractions and places to stay click here.

Articles Search

Download the Destination Cleveland App

The Destination Cleveland app is your guide to art, culture and rock ‘n’ roll in a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Grit meets sophistication in a town with world-class experiences without the world-class ego. And for that, you’re welcome.

Destination Cleveland
334 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
800. 321. 1001
Check out what other travelers say
about Cleveland on TripAdvisor.