Exhibition Review

Gertrude Jekyll – Landscape Gardener and Craftswoman
15 May to 8 September 2013

The Lightbox Gallery in Woking has hosted this summer a high calibre exhibition on Gertrude Jekyll, an exhibition designed to show the huge breadth of her talents encompassing not only gardens, but as a painter, woodcarver, silversmith, embroiderer, interior designer, photographer, author, journalist and conservator.

The exhibition was in 3 sections. The first focussed on her early life and family as well as an artist, applied art designer and decorator. One was delighted to see examples of her watercolours, many from her travels in Italy, France and particularly Algiers, all now held by The Surrey History Centre, but of particular interest were some treasures never exhibited before. We saw a huge (one of three) fine silk embroidered wall panel in a design of intertwining flowers and foliage in shades of gold, designed for the Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall but now privately owned; an embroidered crewel work bedspread, original Munstead glasses, a repoussée work letter book – all loaned from Jekyll family members, and even the Witley church silver patten that features in Miss Jekyll’s own photograph in Home and Garden, just by way of example.

Section 2 was devoted to Gardens and Garden design – more familiar to us, but Trust members would have enjoyed the small Lutyens sketchbook for 1893 with preliminary drawings of Munstead Wood complete with Miss Jekyll reposing in front of her oak door. Also the Lindley Library lent two charming letters from her to William Robinson, one sending him a pair of boots (so marked on the parcel ‘in case the staff take them for fresh flowers and place them in water’).

Finally Section 3 concentrated on Miss Jekyll’s writings as author and journalist, her photography and her work for conservation. It is always a pleasure to see Sir William Nicholson’s two paintings united of both Miss Jekyll herself and her boots, together with the original boots and her small desk. There were examples of first editions of all her books but particularly a copy of the weekly journal ‘The Garden’ for 1904 open at a page showing her design for a Munstead basket but also the frontispiece which reminds us that in 1904 she was joint editor of this journal with E.T.Cook, not a task to be undertaken lightly. Focussing on conservation we saw the original handwritten manuscript of Old West Surrey together with examples from the 3000 photographic plates she exposed to provide the 314 illustrations, all developed by herself in her own dark room at Munstead Wood. This book was also published in 1904 to encourage the conservation of both buildings and artefacts of the area, samples of the latter shown from her collection given to Guildford Museum.

To conclude, in those rare moments of relaxation, we saw three decoupage panels Gertrude Jekyll made from old seed packets and nursery catalogues formed into delightful floral scenes, as well as an example of one of her fine shell pictures, a hobby she continued late in life.

My only regret is that both time and lack of finance prevented the publication of a catalogue of this memorable exhibition.

Jane Balfour