We are excited to be exhibiting as part of London Art Week, our new gallery at 16 Clifford Street, will be hung with an exciting group of recent acquisitions. The exhibition includes little-known masterpieces by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, George Romney and the great eighteenth-century sculptor, Anne Seymour Damer. We are also showing a small group of visionary landscapes by one of the most remarkable watercolourists of the late nineteenth century, William Fraser Garden.
Almost unknown in his own lifetime, Garden produced a sequence of watercolours which are startling for their haunting effect and technical virtuosity. Garden worked slowly and meticulously, producing a relatively small number of beautiful atmospheric watercolours which have long been highly prized by collectors. This small exhibition brings together four of these rare works from a private collection.
These four works were painted between 1882 and 1892 and all show Garden’s fascination with the silhouette of trees in a winter landscape, minutely depicting their bare branches against the failing light. In each work Garden observes leafless trees against the sky, so that their trunks and lower branches appear flattened into an intricate architectural tracery. Each is minutely observed, but essentially simple in design. Despite the silhouetted effect, the trees are not without colour, the trunks being an acid green and the branches and twigs brown, with a high proportion of gum Arabic in the mix. The framing of Garden’s composition suggests he was much influenced by photography. By the time Garden was painting, photography was widely available, and the potential of the medium was already decisively affecting the way landscape painters approached the world.
Garden was a master of watercolour technique, a perfectionist and an innovator. His landscapes, in their verisimilitude and precision, capture unerringly the feeling of an afternoon in Winter in the flat landscape of East Anglia. Garden’s work moved in a decisively different direction from the trajectory of British watercolour art, away from an aesthetic that privileged fleeting impressions made on the spot, towards a more solid vision, inflected by the rise of photography. Garden’s work revels in atmospheric effect, but it is effect that was hard won through laborious work in the studio.
These crepuscular watercolours are staggeringly powerful works. It is not surprising that Garden was rediscovered in the twentieth century by pioneering collectors, including Stanley Seeger and Christopher Cone who owned A Recollection of Stevington, Bedfordshire. At their best, Garden’s works completely escape the conventions of Victorian watercolour painting, there is a strangeness and preternatural sense of silence in his Winter landscapes which looks beyond stylistic schools and national boundaries.
The gallery will be open daily 29th June – 8th July, 10am-5pm and at other times by appointment.