Click to enlarge A Garden for all Seasons

Oil on Canvas (triptych)
180 x 360cm
Collection: Victorian Arts Centre

Limited edition Giclee archival prints of this painting are available for purchase. Paper size: 42.0 x 60.0 cm

Critics who feel the need to categorise artist are often challenged by the work of Anne Marie Graham. Her simplification of forms and license with colour have caused her to be pigeonholed as a naïve artist. But there are problems: the moniker just doesn’t fit. Bianca McCullough, in her pioneering Australian Naïve Painters (1977), placed Graham in a special category – ‘The border line cases’ – at the end of her book. Of course, Graham is no Grandma Moses or ‘innocent observer’, and it would be hard to find a more sophisticated practitioner. She comes from a richly cultured European background, first attended art school at the age of 7 (under the famous Professor Franz Czizek in Vienna), is widely travelled and au fait with the history of world art. Her artistic practice includes sculpture, mosaic and film as well as painting. For many years she was a guide at eh National Gallery of Victoria.

Nothing in Graham’s oeuvre belies her presumed naïve status as spectacularly as A Garden for all Seasons. Utilising the triptych format traditionally reserved for European religious paintings, its point of departure is one of the most famous painting type, Hieronymus Bosch’s enigmatic The Garden of Earthly Delights 1490-1510 in Museo del Prado, Madrid. Her three panels are roughly the same as Bosch’s and featuring a square panel flanked by a pair of rectangular ‘wings’ (not operational in Graham’s case) whose combined size equals that of the central panel. The title may reference Robert Bolt’s 1954 play about Sir Thomas More, A Man for all Seasons, and the 1966 film based on it.

There is something teasingly provocative in Graham’s substitution of a prosaic subject – Melbournians at play in their iconic pleasure grounds – the Royal Botanic Gardens – for the gravitas of the traditional triptych subjects. A long-time ‘local’ and user of the Gardens, Graham presents us with a cast of RBG habitués: there is a picnic of Eltham hippies, a trio of schoolboys in short pants and long socks, a pair of lovers on a rug, four grannies with an esky, a lady painter with easel and chair, a behatted matron and her pet terrier in a standoff with an intrusive black swan, and many more. All are described with affection and sometimes irony. There are succulents, palms, rhododendrons, stands of pampus grass, an araucaria and a circular bed of cannas. To particularize the scend beyond doubt we are given the Nareeb gates and Guilfoyle’s serpentine paths and lakes. Presiding over the artificial landscape, on the horizon in the central panels, is the tower of Government House. The whole scene, painted from the imaginary bird’s-eye view, is unified by Graham’s masterly use of what the Victorians term ‘aerial perspective’ – the softening of forms and colours towards the horizon.

A Garden for all Seasons is the centrepiece of Graham’s major series of the Royal botanic Gardens. It brings together many of her themes and motifs and could be said to be her ultimate celebration of the gardens and all they mean to her and her fellow Melbournians.

Terence Lane