The art of nature

The Autumn trees are turning beautiful shades of gold and red and the air is beginning to get cold and crisp. The end of daylight saving means that the long, warm evenings of Summer are over. It gets dark at 6pm now, and earlier each night until solstice. As the quality of the light becomes softer, the last of the clear sunny days of Autumn become precious and treasured with the approaching darkness and cold of Winter. Easter has just passed, giving a reminder that death and rebirth is a theme that must be confronted in human lives. These feelings draw the mind inward and the senses outward. The only thing to do, it seems, is to seek quiet joy  in the final days of sunshine by being out in the garden or walking outside. These pursuits allow the mind to rest, take stock and be inspired by God’s creations through slowing down and noticing the details of the garden. Birth, death and rebirth can be seen all around – it seems that nature can help the mind process the dramatic themes of Easter as well.

autumn trees

Nature is as intrinsic to art as it is for humans to breathe air. Even a contemporary sculpture may give the impression of a crystalline form, water, a seed or a living thing, or be crafted from the earth’s wood, rock or metal. Infinite numbers of artworks have taken their forms, sounds, colours and rhythms from nature. Famous examples include French painter, Claude Monet (1883 – 1926), and composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 – 1827).

py Monet's water garden, Giverny.JPG
Monet’s garden at Giverny

Monet’s garden in Giverny provided peace, inspiration and immersion amongst natural colour and light that made his impressionist paintings such masterpieces. Beethoven is reputed to have spent a great deal of time walking in the country areas outside of Vienna. The first movement of his Pastorale Symphony, which premiered in 1808, is notated with text that translates as ‘awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside’, which gives an indication of his love for nature. Closer to home, William Ricketts’ (1898 – 1993) appreciation of the Australian bush and the connection that Aboriginal people have with the land, inspired the creation of a large number of ceramic sculptures depicting Australian aboriginal people, animals and plants. Many of his sculptures are now in a bushland setting in Mt Dandenong, called William Rickett’s Sanctuary, which is open to the public.

Sculpture of the artist at William Ricketts Sanctuary

In more recent times, Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Radio National began the Trees I’ve loved project in 2013, inviting audiences to contribute their stories about their relationships with trees. The ABC received hundreds of heartfelt responses. Forty are available online to enjoy. These stories were edited by Gretchen Miller and compiled into a book entitled In their branches.In their branches CD.jpg

Following that, ABC Classics
label released a delightful CD in 2015 with the same title, featuring 18 pieces about trees. Among the Australian-composed pieces are Jane Rutter’s Kodama tree spirit, Percy Grainger’s My robin is to the greenwood gone, David Jones’ Forest walk, Richard Mills’ The nocturnal power of trees and Peter Sculthorpe’s The rain-forest.


This example from only a few years ago shows how the human experiences of nature are still forming a strong basis for the art of story, literature and music. What about contemporary sculpture and visual art?

McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park is a feast for the artistic senses. The bushland setting of the many large and unexpected sculptures, draws the visitor into un-earthly realms that stir the imagination. The indoor café and gallery provide an intriguing nook for exciting Australian visual art. Dame Elisabeth Murdoch was a significant contributor to the establishment since its beginning in 1971. Dame Elisabeth understood that there is a link between gardens and art, and that people need these two things to nourish their souls.

McClelland Website

Dame Elisabeth was also the founder of the Royal Cranbourne Botanic Gardens as well as creating her own garden at Cruden Farm in Langwarrin. A variety of rose has even been cultivated with her name and is widely available at rose nurseries. Additionally, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute commissions an Australian artist each year to create floral images for gift cards to promote the Elisabeth Murdoch Mother’s Day Appeal.

Dame Elisabeth spent her life patronising establishments to make art and beautiful gardens accessible to all. At McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park and Cranbourne Botanic Gardens, anyone can enjoy world-class art in a natural Australian garden.

murdoch and rose

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch holding a bloom of her own rose cultivar

As Autumn and Winter take hold in the coming months, future articles will be posted here on the art that can be enjoyed at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park and Royal Cranbourne Botanic Gardens. Visiting gardens in the cooler seasons, rugged up with woollies, releases the confines of the indoors and flushes away the Winter blues with fresh air, visual delights and artistic inspiration.

Royal Cranbourne Botanic Gardens

Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker


One thought on “The art of nature

  1. Hi Jade,

    Thanks for your lovely Autumn review,

    I really enjoyed reading itJ

    Dame Elisabeth Murdoch certainly did leave a wonderful legacy, didn’t sheJ

    Sharon and I recently visited the Rhodi gardens where the autumn colours are just starting to appear.

    We must go again soon, I especially like the lovely buttery colour of the Ginko’s in autumn.




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