Towards the end of 2019, Bankside Gallery and Chelsea Physic Garden met to discuss the possibility of running a garden-themed exhibition. Chelsea Physic Garden invited selected artists of the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) and Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) to immerse themselves in their haven and respond to the surroundings by recording a year in the life of this stunning and important garden, the results of which would be exhibited at Bankside Gallery.
As was the case all too often in 2020, our plans ground to a halt in March when Chelsea Physic Garden was forced to temporarily close its doors. Fortunately, many of the artists had already made several visits and were able to make work from their preliminary research and sketches. As soon as the doors reopened, the artists returned, seeing both the Garden and the project as a wonderful refuge from the challenges of the pandemic.
Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to visit Chelsea Physic Garden will tell you that it is a very special experience. We were absolutely thrilled to hear first-hand from some of the exhibiting artists about just how much they enjoyed getting to know the Garden for this project.
"Being close to nature, watching plants grow, and having an ongoing project to work on, have been very important for me."
- Liz Butler RWS
Liz Butler RWS, Under the Bay Tree, watercolour, £950 framed. Enquire.
Liz Butler RWS visited Chelsea Physic Garden every Monday when it reopened after the first lockdown over a period of several months, gathering material in the form of watercolour sketches and studies painted in situ, which she would later transform into finished pieces in her studio. The results are absolutely exquisite. Liz's small and intricate paintings are a triumph, and the detail that she has managed to achieve is quite astounding.
"The gardens were super overgrown when I first started visiting in June 2020, as there were only a few gardeners tending to the space. It was rather wonderful, and I felt very privileged to watch the transformation once the gardeners were back in force."
- Liz Butler RWS
Another of the selected artists for this project, and one of the RWS's longest standing members, June Berry RWS Hon. RE, had never previously visited Chelsea Physic Garden and saw this project as an exciting opportunity to explore a new part of the city.
"Chelsea Physic Garden was new to me and from my first visit I was totally enthralled and inspired by it. It is the most amazing place - a touch of paradise in the middle of busy London."
- June Berry RWS
While June's works for the Chelsea Physic Garden exhibition are a slight departure from her usual figurative style, they retain her discernible character and charm; her paintings of these two iconic vistas of the Garden are both a masterclass in composition and a delight in colour.
June Berry RWS, The Orange Tree at the Chelsea Physic Garden, watercolour, £1300 framed. Enquire.
For Mychael Barratt PPRE Hon. RWS, this project was an exciting opportunity to get to know the history of the Garden. The result is a stunning map which celebrates some of the wonderful, quirky, famous as well as little-known parts of the Garden's history, referencing all of the famous curators of the Garden's own Historical Walk, as well as notable moments such as the invention of Wardian cases and a very famous visit by the WWI poet Wilfred Owen.
"The moment I heard that WWI poet Wilfred Owen had spent his last day in England at Chelsea Physic Garden I knew I had to reference this. That poignant anecdote sparked the research that would ultimately become my 'Map of the Chelsea Physic Garden.'
"I was delighted to have the opportunity to get to know a little bit more about the history of this famous and important garden. This has been a wonderful project to be involved in."
- Mychael Barratt PPRE Hon. RWS
Mychael Barratt PPRE Hon. RWS, Map of the Chelsea Physic Garden, silkscreen, etching & hand-colouring, £370 framed £280 unframed. Enquire.
Over the course of the last 18 months, the 19 selected artists have researched, visited (when possible) and recorded the Garden throughout changing seasons and varying restrictions, documenting perhaps one of the most extraordinary years of the Garden's life. The result is a compelling and vibrant display of creativity and a wonderful example of what can be achieved in the face of adversity. The exhibition is truly refreshing and uplifting; a reminder of the joys and healing powers of both art and nature.
To find out more about the exhibition Chelsea Physic Garden: A Year in the Life, click here.
To find out more about Chelsea Physic Garden, head to their website here.