Painting the vegetable garden 1

Hans Andersen Brendekilde (1857–1942), Afternoon Work (1918), oil on canvas, 77 x 100 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

By this time of year, across Europe and North America, most flower gardens have been tidied up and tucked away for winter. It’s only in the vegetable garden that activity continues, with the last of the crops to bring in and preparations for the next. While not as glamorous as the flowers that have brought their colour through the warmer months, it’s the vegetables that fill our plates.

In this weekend’s two articles I look at more recent paintings of vegetable gardens and production, many of them made by artists who tended their own vegetable patch, and a few who took their gardening even more seriously.

Alfred Sisley, Fog, Voisins (1874), oil on canvas, 50.5 x 65 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. EHN & DIJ Oakley.
Alfred Sisley (1839–1899), Fog, Voisins (1874), oil on canvas, 50.5 x 65 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. EHN & DIJ Oakley.

Alfred Sisley’s fog-cloaked flowerbed in the foreground is a small patch of colour in this garden. The woman working away isn’t tending her nasturtiums, but toiling away at what will, in a few months time, be carefully prepared and cooked in her kitchen.

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Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894), The Gardeners (1875), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Gustave Caillebotte’s gardening became so serious that it was something of an obsession. He painted the large vegetable gardens which fed the estates of the rich, as in The Gardeners (1875).

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Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894), The Kitchen Garden, Petit Gennevilliers (1882), oil on canvas, 66 x 81 cm, Private Collection. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1888, when Caillebotte moved out to his modest estate at Petit-Gennevilliers near Argenteuil, he almost stopped painting to free up time to tend to The Kitchen Garden, Petit Gennevilliers (1882), as well as his flowers.

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Camille Pissarro (1830–1903), Peasant Woman Digging, the Jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise (1881), oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Camille Pissarro’s Peasant Woman Digging, the Jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise (1881) shows two women working in the vegetable garden of this large house in the village of Pontoise. This painting was first shown at the seventh Impressionist Exhibition.

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Emil Jakob Schindler (1842–1892), Vegetable garden in Plankenberg in September (1885), media and dimensions not known, Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

Emil Jakob Schindler shows a more typical rural Vegetable Garden in Plankenberg in September (1885), with its small patches of a wide range of produce.

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Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Montmartre: Mills and Vegetable Gardens (1887), oil on canvas, 44.8 x 81 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Wikimedia Commons.

Vincent van Gogh’s Montmartre: Mills and Vegetable Gardens from 1887 shows the two windmills of Montmartre, and reveals the smallholdings and gardens covering much of this area at the time. These have long since been replaced by buildings and roads and absorbed into the city.

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Sir George Clausen (1852–1944), A Frosty March Morning (1904), oil on canvas, 63.5 x 76.2 cm, The Tate Gallery (Presented by C.N. Luxmoore 1929), London. Photographic Rights © Tate 2016, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported), http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/clausen-a-frosty-march-morning-n04485

George Clausen’s gardeners are preparing the soil on a frosty morning in March. As they live in a town, they have to work surrogate plots in allotments, small portions of land unsuitable for dwellings, or (in this case) divided from fields at the edge of the town. For many living in towns and cities, a trip to the family allotment was the closest they would get to going to the country, a brief retreat to escape the concrete and tarmac, and dream of living in more pastoral places. Even small allotments were often decisive to a family’s food supply.

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Nikolai Astrup (1880–1928), A Night in Spring (1909), oil on canvas, 86 × 105 cm, Bergen Kunstmuseum, KODE, Bergen, Norway. Wikimedia Commons.

In the more extreme climates of the Nordic countries, vegetable gardens remained essential to nutrition and life. Nikolai Astrup shows a couple probably sowing their small patch in western Norway on A Night in Spring from 1909.

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Nikolai Astrup (1880–1928), Rabarbra (Rhubarb) (1911), oil on canvas, 93 x 110 cm, Bergen Kunstmuseum, KODE, Bergen, Norway. Wikimedia Commons.

Then late in the summer, Astrup shows them returning to harvest that most unglamorous of crops, Rhubarb (1911).

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Hans Andersen Brendekilde (1857–1942), Afternoon Work (1918), oil on canvas, 77 x 100 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of the First World War, Hans Andersen Brendekilde painted a gardening story, in Afternoon Work (1918). A younger man is out on his finely-tilled vegetable patch in front of his thatched cottage. Standing just outside the door, behind him, is his young daughter, and through the window is an older woman, presumably his wife. Both are watching him intently, with an air of fear at what he is about to do. His face shows the grim determination of a gardener about to attack a small crop of fresh molehills in the midst of his vegetable seedlings.

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Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Walchensee, Vegetable Garden (1924), oil on canvas, 70 × 90 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Lovis Corinth found a vegetable garden beside Walchensee, up in the Bavarian Alps, which he painted in 1924, the year before his death.

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Nikolai Astrup (1880–1928), Early Snow (1926-27), oil on canvas, 67 x 72 cm, Bergen Kunstmuseum, KODE, Bergen, Norway. The Athenaeum.

Nikolai Astrup’s Early Snow (1926-27) is a loose oil sketch of the beds at his home in Sandalstrand after the first snowfall of the autumn. It has caught the Astrup family’s vegetables by surprise, with two large red cabbage plants looking the worse for the cold. The door to the house is open, revealing a traditional wood-burner blazing away to keep its occupants warm.