Victorian Pastoral: Garden Museum acquires early Gertrude Jekyll photographs

| 15 March 2016

As well as a garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll was a keen photographer with an eye for rural traditions, as these Victorian platinum prints reveal

a photo of a lane with wooden wattle fence and hay ricks stacked for drying
Gertrude Jekyll, Field with Haystacks and Wattle Fencing Separating Road from Woodland, 1885© Garden Museum
Gertrude Jekyll is justly remembered for her subtle, painterly approach to the arrangement of gardens, Impressionistic borders and her influential garden designs but a new acquisition at the Garden Museum also reminds us of her skill as a photographer. 

A unique album of photographs by the garden designer containing 59 platinum prints dated between 1885 and 1886 has been recently purchased by the museum and it reveals someone, perhaps unsurprisingly, who expertly recorded English vernacular architecture and rural traditions.

Jekyll took up photography, under the tutelage of her brother, Sir Herbert, in 1885 and began using her own photographs alongside her text in order to emphasise her aesthetic style.

a photo of two wicker pots with tubs over them
Gertrude Jekyll, Two Straw Bee Skeps in a Cottage Garden, 1885© Garden Museum
Influential garden designer

Her hugely influential books, such as Wood and Garden (1899) about her experiences as an amateur gardener at Munstead Wood and Old West Surrey (1904) which records the architecture, crafts and traditions of her home county were both illustrated with her own photography, which she used to record and scrutinise the landscape around her.

Whilst Jekyll left behind more than 2000 prints in six photo-notebooks (now at UC Berkeley, CA) the newly acquired album contains what she considered her best work and represents a moment of self-realisation as a skilled photographer who had mastered the craft of exposing and developing fine art photography prints.

The prints, bound together in a single album, also document the tastes of Britain’s best known garden maker in the early years of her career and illustrate the interest that would later inspire her to popularise a more naturalistic and painterly style of garden design.

a black and white photo of the exposed root system of tree on an embankment
Gertrude Jekyll, Beech Tree Roots Overhanging a Steep Embankment, Busbridge Lane, 1885© Garden Museum
Garden Museum redevelopment

The Garden Museum is currently closed to the public for a £7.5 million redevelopment project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, reopening in early 2017 with new galleries that explore the design and history of gardens.

A new archive study room will also allow access to the plans and working materials of some of the twentieth centuries most innovative, ground breaking and fashionable garden designers.

a photo of a flower garden with pathway leading through a garden in full bloom
Gertrude Jekyll, Flower Boarder in July with Groups of Mulleins, Sea Holly and other SummerFlowers, 1886© Garden Museum
a photo of the yard of a cottage
Gertrude Jekyll, The Dairy Yard at Unstead Farm, near Godalming, 1885© Garden Museum
a black and white photo of a woman tending roses in her garden
Gertrude Jekyll, Mrs Edgeler Adjusting Cluster-Rose in her Garden, Surrey, 1886© Garden Museum
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