Magazine article The Spectator

Garden Delights

Magazine article The Spectator

Garden Delights

Article excerpt

Charlotte Verity: A Year in Tradescant's Garden

Garden Museum, until 2 May

There were two John Tradescants, father and son, operating in the 17th century as travellers and gardeners from a base in south London. Their family tomb is at the heart of the garden surrounding the Garden Museum in the former church of St Mary-at-Lambeth in Lambeth Palace Road, a garden designed as a Tradescant memorial 30 years ago by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury.

This hallowed place has been the principal subject for the past year of the painter Charlotte Verity (born 1954), the museum's first artist-in-residence. The initiative has been generously funded by the Cocheme Trust, and the results of Verity's year-long residency are now on show in the museum's new gallery.

A handsome publication has been produced to celebrate the event, with useful texts by garden writer Sarah Langton-Lockton and art historian Simon Wilson, and a generous selection of extracts from the artist's own journal.

The exhibition is not a dramatic affair, but it strikes a sustained note of quiet and affectionate commemoration which is no less affecting for being low-key. Verity is adept at understatement and subtlety. As Langton-Lockton writes: 'Her paintings and drawings are not primarily about recording the garden, although there is an element of that, nor are they a plant inventory; they are simply about the life of the museum as expressed by its garden.'

Verity is an experienced garden painter, having focused for many years on her own Camberwell garden, but this new body of work (which includes pictures of other subjects as well as the Garden Museum) is without doubt her strongest yet. She was evidently inspired by the intensity and restrictions of the new environment - she writes that the 'essence of the place is change within a structure' - and this has informed her own response.

Verity, although equipped with a shed for a studio, worked outside in even the coldest weather (she calls it 'a two-hat day' when the temperature really plummets), and observes that she had never felt the passing seasons quite so keenly. She was always on the run, as it were, trying to keep pace with changing nature and the plethora of possible subjects. Although her attention is focused on the garden, she is occasionally made aware of the outside world, as when a rubbish lorry overturns in the road or she enjoys watching two sun loungers being delivered to Lambeth Palace by a John Lewis van. Unexpectedly, she doesn't see the Archbishop of Canterbury until near the end of her year, in December, and then describes him as 'a surprisingly slight figure'.

Her journal is in effect a litany of celebration, threaded with self-doubt and the sense of temporary defeat every self-questioning artist experiences from time to time.

Turn from her writings to her paintings and her real capabilities become clear. She is skilled at the unfussy evocation of subject, for instance in the several studies of snowdrops, of which 'Snowdrops and Dark Glass' is perhaps the most effective. Her painting 'Birches in Winter' is at once authoritative and tender. In 'Buttress' she poignantly isolates a section of the church wall and depicts its covering of sunlit lichen, contrasting the yellowy-green with the grey-blue glassfronted high-rise behind. …

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