Gallery of past work

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Chenonceau Gardens

Speedy progress is being made towards completion of my work for Brunel Broderer's exhibition at the Gardens Gallery, Cheltenham, in early September - which is just as well as the date for submission is fast approaching!

As explained in a previous post, my main piece explores the imagery found in Catherine de Medici's garden at Chenonceau in France's Loire region. The work is a metre long and develops studies of small sections of the planting in the Chateau's formal gardens.  Below are two of these studies, which have evolved from photographs taken during my visit in July.

In developing this work, the first thing that intrigued me was the height difference in the garden between the standard rose trees planted at intervals along the borders and the smaller plants beneath. The planting seemed to symbolise the wealth and social class differences between Catherine de Medici as wife of Henry II (and therefore Queen of France) and her subjects.

The colour imagery in the garden and in my pieces tells a far more complex and dark tale with its planting in black (or near-black), and white flowers with acid green foliage. Catherine is known as the Black Queen or sometimes the Black Widow and the inclusion of the colour in the garden marks at its simplest level her life after the king's death when she wore black trimmed with white as a sign of mourning everyday until her own death in 1589.

From Google archive

However, as well as its association with death and grief, black is said to symbolise power and authority. Although largely shunned by her husband in his lifetime, Catherine had considerable power and influence after his death which she exercised ruthlessly as the mother of his sons. She has been described as probably the most powerful woman in 16th century Europe as she fought for the rights of her sons to govern.

Black can suggest evil and cruelty and throughout this time, Catherine is known to have been callous and at times brutal. In her later years, she was linked with the excessive persecution of the Calvinist Protestants (or Huguenots) and was blamed, perhaps wrongly, for the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572 in which thousands of people lost their lives.

Black, being the absence of colour, is sometimes associated with mystery and intrigue. Catherine was known also as the 'Sinister Queen' as she was supposed to have an interest in the occult and there was the suggestion of witchcraft. There is much mystery behind the true nature of her involvement.

The shadowed and flipped repetitions of the rose trees and their under-planting in my pieces are intended to suggest this mystery and to hint at the many deaths that may have resulted from her ruthlessness.

Although I was aware of these sinister undercurrents as I walked around the garden, strangely the overwhelming feeling that I was left with after my visit was of calm and order rather than horror and darkness. Perhaps I was reacting only to the garden on a hot summer's day with its orderly plants and unusual colour palette.

Odd though that one woman's tangled and difficult life and its aftermath should have produced such mixed feelings. I hope that my pieces hint at this ambivalence.

* Details of the exhibition are given in the sidebar of this blog.


  1. This is history I am mostly unfamiliar with so am fascinated by you storytelling and how seeing the gardens affected you, your emotions, your creative thoughts.

    In my opinion, these little bits would be nice but less interesting were it not for that shadow image. It indeed evokes mystery and questions for the viewer and gives the composition depth.

    1. I’m pleased that you found my account interesting. My knowledge of this time in French history was also sketchy till I visited the chateau and began investing. It has been fascinating if, at times, shocking, and has given me much to think about. Considering how I was going to develop the imagery has been a particular challenge.

  2. Really looking forward to seeing the work at the exhibition!

    1. We will be stewarding throughout and I will be there on two days so I may perhaps see you. I certainly hope so.

  3. These pieces are really interesting and I enjoyed your musings on CdeM. xx

    1. Thank you Lin. I’ll be interested to know how Chenonceau strikes you if you visit.

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you as always, Connie. I'll try and post the finished long piece once it’s hanging in the exhibition but I suspect the photo won’t cope well with the shape of the computer screen.


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