To commemorate a milestone birthday, my husband presented me with a wonderful gift: a portrait of my garden. He commissioned a young Boston artist, Phoebe Barnes Stone, to paint any view in the garden I chose. Without hesitation I knew the garden portrait I wanted would be of my peonies.
Initially I was convinced the view in the garden I wanted painted would be the large peony border looking west to east. But over several visits, as Phoebe and I looked at views from different vantage points, I began to question my decision. Looking at the garden with an artist is a different experience from looking at the garden as a gardener, a designer, a writer or even a photographer. When I look I might see the plants, the lines of the beds, the conditions of the plants, and of course, always! how many weeds there might be and what work needed to be done. When Phoebe as artist looks she sees color and shape. The idea of looking at a garden for color and shape is not a brand new idea for me, but standing in the garden with Phoebe looking as she looked, I realized it had been a long time since I looked at the garden so simply. Gradually, over the course of choosing a view, I began to let go of the cares of being the gardener. As gardener I constantly attempt to dictate what the garden should look like. I began the process of choosing the view to be painted with an attempt to direct what the painting should look like, just as I constantly attempt to dictate how the garden should look. After several visits and discussions with Phoebe I allowed myself to trust her artistic impulses. I gave her complete artistic license to create the portrait she thought best represents “my” peonies. I am so glad I did because I am thrilled with the final result. Last week the painting was delivered and sits upon the mantle (waiting to be framed) in all its intensity of color and shape. The finished painting is not an exact portrait of the peonies, it is an interpretation of them, and as such better represents them in their exuberant luxuriousness then any photograph.